A Pope to give the Church a Youthful Face, Faith and Energy?

A Pope to give the Church a Youthful Face, Faith and Energy? March 6, 2013

Yesterday I mentioned on Facebook that the more I read about the younger set of Cardinals the more I like these “Ratzingerians”, (so named because they’ve mostly been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI). I was very taken with this John Allen interview with Cardinal John Onaiyekan (referred to by some as the “Timothy Dolan of Africa”); he seems very sensible, faithful, smart and even charming.

Dolan, of course, is a Ratzingerian, as is Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Just over half of the College of Cardinals have been created by Benedict; the other half might be called “Wojtyłians”.

My very favorite of the Ratzingerians, though, is rapidly becoming the one cardinal who will likely be dismissed by most for the simple reason of age. The very youthful-looking Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle is only 55 years old, but he is really something special.

Because he knows my upcoming book is about idols and idolatry, Joseph Susanka sent me this quote from Tagle:

“An idolater easily loses compassion for the weak. Though he was judged, Jesus was the one actually judging the untrue worship that kept people blind and deaf to the true God and the poor. The Church that lives the life of Christ and offers his living sacrifice cannot run away from its mission to unearth the false gods worshiped by the world. How many people have exchanged the true God for idols like profit, prestige, pleasure and control? Those who worship false gods also dedicate their lives to them. In reality these false gods are self-interests.

To keep these false gods, their worshipers sacrifice other people’s lives and the earth. It is sad that those who worship idols sacrifice other people while preserving themselves and their interests. How many factory workers are being denied the right wages for the god of profit? How many women are being sacrificed to the god of domination? How many children are being sacrificed to the god of lust? How many trees, rivers, hills are being sacrificed to the god of “progress”? How many poor people are being sacrificed to the god of greed? How many defenseless people are being sacrificed to the god of national security?”

That’s a part of his discource on the Holy Eucharist and it knocked me out, as did the whole speech. Tagle is a teacher of the first water. And he is a pastoral, faithful priest who is also seriously humble, as Allen has spelled out:

Here’s another typical story. Not long after Tagle arrived in Imus, a small chapel located in a run-down neighborhood was waiting for a priest to say Mass at around 4 a.m. for a group mostly made up of day laborers. Eventually, a youngish cleric showed up on a cheap bicycle, wearing simple clothes and ready to start the Mass. An astonished member of the congregation realized it was the new bishop and apologized that they hadn’t prepared a better welcome. Tagle said it was no problem; he got word late the night before that the priest was sick and decided to say the Mass himself.

The Diocese of Imus has over 2.3 million Catholics. Cardinal Chito does not keep his distance from there. Here is another story, shared by Rocco Palmo, from a priest who gave it to him on background.

I took a few months of sabbatical in the Philippines. A priest friend of mine arranged with then Bishop Chito to direct a thirty-day Ignatian retreat for me. I was the given a small room in a convent in Tagaytay. . .For thirty days, this bishop with plenty else to do took an hour out of his day to come by the convent and visit with me, guiding me gently and assuredly towards a deeper and ever more rich experience of God’s presence in my life. He also shared much of his own life with me. I was able to meet as much in him Jesus, the Good Shepherd, as in my own meditations on the various scripture passages he offered to me for prayer.

One evening, he invited me to join him and his seminarians for dinner at their nearby seminary. . .What a lovely surprise when dinner was served to find the seminary staff, the cooks, the maintenance boys, the shepherds just in from the barn, all take their seats with their bishop and the seminarians for the meal together. No rank, no superiority or inferiority, no cleric versus laity, no rich versus poor, just one family enjoying a simple meal together.

Besides being a fine theologian. . .in a society filled with extraordinary corruption, Chito Tagle stands as one of the few public figures who is absolutely unbribable. And on top of that, he is authentically humble. He is simply the smartest, holiest, most courageous, most sacrificial, most pastoral man, priest, bishop, archbishop… and now cardinal I have ever met anywhere. These are the reasons he is so popular in the Philippines and why he has so many “likes” on his Facebook page. This is why politicians and government officials, not to mention priests and seminarians, religious and laity, seek his counsel in their difficult moments.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle sounds like everything we are all saying we need in the church, although, whether he can whip the Curia into shape is unknown. Still, it would be a shame if he is dismissed because of his youth; we as a church could use a youthful face right now — it could also use some of Tagle’s youthful, trusting and unspoiled faith and energy.

I understand the reluctance of the Cardinals to elect a new pope who might have a 30 year papacy, but perhaps one effect of Benedict’s resignation will be to shake them into thinking that anything can happen in a papacy, anything at all. A pope can drop dead after 30 days; he can be shot and live for 20 years more; he can resign from old age. In that case, perhaps, the question of age and papal terms should become less of an issue for the college, and they can allow themselves a broader field of candidates!

“Cardinal Chito” has his own YouTube page, too. Check it out.

John Thavis:
“We need heart in the church…”

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