Abellanosa: Reflections on Cardinal Tagle

Fringes and frontiers

THE appointment of Cardinal Chito Tagle to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples is a thing to welcome. If I am not mistaken, he is the 2nd Filipino, so far, to hold such a high position in the Roman Catholic Church. The first was Cardinal Jose T. Sanchez who was Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy from 1991 to 1996.

Those who are not familiar with ecclesiastical lingo should know that the “Roman Curia” is the highest governing body of the Roman Catholic Church. The Curia is composed of dicasteries which are similar to the Departments under the Executive branch of our national government. Tagle’s elevation therefore is apparently a promotion to a cabinet position in the Vatican.

It has also been reported that the Congregation which Tagle will occupy is one of the more influential departments. Perhaps it is next to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly called the Inquisition). Evangelization of the Peoples originated from the “Propaganda Fidei” and is responsible for the Church’s many missionary activities.

According to the Vatican website, the Congregation’s task is to “direct and coordinate throughout the world the actual work of spreading the Gospel as well as missionary cooperation, without prejudice to the competence of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches [another dicastery or department].” In addition, it also “presides over the administration of the missions and examines all of the questions and reports sent by local Ordinaries and Bishop’s conferences.”

There is, thus, a reason to be proud of our own Cardinal Chito. Other than being truly qualified for the post, the appointment shows how much trust the Holy Father has in our kababayan-Cardinal. The jubilation and pride of many Filipinos, priests and lay, religious and secular, show that many people are still aware of what’s going on with and in their Church.

Unavoidably, an issue emerged as a consequence of Tagle’s appointment. Even prior to any clarification, some people have already put forward their unsolicited forecasts as to who’s going to be the next Archbishop of Manila. Some comments and social media postings indicate concern, others: intrigues. In the end, opinions among clergy and laity on the issue of appointments still speak of how political and politicized the Philippine Church has become.

While it is normal for the Church to have its own kind of politics, this, however, is something that must be subject to discernment from time to time. Though we should be happy of Cardinal Tagle’s promotion but we should be more concerned with the essential issues and challenges of “evangelization” itself. His work is not just an office work. Evangelization is not just about issuing documents. His appointment is basically not a promotion but a higher and serious calling. It’s not a political honor. It’s a commitment.

After 500 years of presence in the Philippines, the Catholic Church still has a lot of things to do. Priests and lay both need to ask what the Church has contributed to the increasing division among Filipinos. We need to be honest in answering the question whether there is too much politics within the Church itself. If after five centuries all that we can be proud of is the mere “event of arrival of Christianity” in our shores, I am of the firm conviction that there is nothing essential to celebrate then.

It makes me worried and partly sad when lay people within the inner circle [the ones closer to the hierarchy] are more concerned with the bureaucratic affairs of the Church. This is a kind of “clericalism” that also pervades among the laity. True that we have to be concerned with the “ins and outs” of our ecclesiastical context. However, we should not forget that the Church does not belong to any Pope or Cardinal. It belongs to Him who founded it. When we take its work into our own hands, we will never succeed despite all our human preparations. Ultimately, evangelization is the work of and for God, not of a particular leader or office.

Tagle’s own motto reminds us of the real force behind all these: Dominus Est – “It is the Lord!”


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