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Cardinal Tagle: Seven years with Pope Francis, a parable of God's closeness

On the seventh anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the Petrine ministry, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, says that every new Pope is a gift from God that is “unwrapped” through the years of his papal ministry.

by Alessandro Gisotti

Interview with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the 265th Successor of St Peter, Pope Francis

Alessandro Gisotti (VN): Cardinal Tagle, seven years have passed since the election of Pope Francis. What personal memories have you of that March 13, 2013?

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle: I was among the six bishops named cardinal in the last consistory of Benedict XVI on 24 November 2012. Three months later I was part of the conclave that elected Pope Francis. The whole event constitutes a single but multi-faceted experience.

Among many memories of March 13, 2013, I want to share two.

First, when Cardinal Bergoglio got the required number of votes for someone to be elected Pope, the Cardinals burst into joy, applause and praise of God who assured us again that He would not abandon His Church. But when I looked at Cardinal Bergoglio, I saw him seated with his head bowed. My exuberance suddenly turned to pathos. In the new Pope´s posture of bowing, I felt the weight of obedience or bowing to God´s mysterious will. I also felt the need to bow in prayer, an act of trust in God who is the true Shepherd of the Church.

Secondly, as we joined Pope Francis in greeting the crowd gathered at St. Peter´s Square, I realized that every new Pope is a gift that God will slowly “unwrap” through the years of his papal ministry, or a promise that God will fulfill before His people. As I thanked God for the gift of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, I was excited to see the gift and the promise that God would start to share with the Church and the world in the coming years.

VN: What has the Pontificate brought to you personally and as pastor of a great diocese like Manila?

Cardinal Tagle: Aside from the wealth of teaching and gestures that we have been receiving from Pope Francis these past seven years, I rejoice in the lessons that his example has given me, especially as pastor in Manila: to pay attention to individual persons in the midst of big crowds, to maintain personal contact in the midst of a big ecclesiastical organization or “bureaucracy”, to accept your limitations and the need for collaborators in the midst of “super human” expectations, to know that you are a servant, not the Savior.   

VN: You have had may opportunities to meet Pope Francis. What impresses the most you about his person and his witness?

Cardinal Tagle: Cardinal Bergoglio and I worked together as members of the Ordinary Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops from 2005 to 2008. I am impressed that he has brought to the Papacy the simple, humorous and observant person that I have always known him to be. In practically all my meetings with him as Pope Francis, the first question he asks is not about the business of the day but “how are your parents?”

While many people rightly consider him one of the most influential movers and shapers of the course of contemporary history and humanity, I see in him and our conversations a simple “parable” of God´s closeness and compassion. And by being such a “parable”, Pope Francis can move and shape history.

VN: For the Pope the discarded are the first: the sick, the poor, the migrants. Just think of those who are affected by the coronavirus. Yet some are finding it difficult to accept this “preferential option” for the least. Why in your opinion?

Cardinal Tagle: I do not want to judge anyone, especially those whom you describe as “finding it difficult to accept this ´preferential option´” of the discarded,  including creation. I simply want to remind everyone, including myself, that the special love that Christians must have for the least in society is not an invention of Pope Francis. The Bible, the practice of the Church from its birth, the Social Teachings of the Church, the witness of martyrs and saints, and the constant mission of the Church towards the poor and neglected through the centuries form a chorus and a symphony which we are invited to hear and to join with our voices and the “instruments” that we have, namely our persons, time, talents, treasure.

I propose that we have more personal contact and encounter with the helpless and poor. But we must allow such encounters to disturb our hearts and to lead us to prayer so we can hear Jesus speaking to us in the poor.

VN: For the Pope the missionary announcement is fundamental. How can the “Church which goes forth” be made more concrete and how does this inspire you in your new role as Prefect of Propaganda Fide?

Cardinal Tagle: It is true that the “Church which goes forth” according to Pope Francis is a Church that goes to men and women and the concrete situations of the world in order to bring the Gospel in word and deed. Mission or evangelization is the reason for the Church´s existence.

But we should not forget that Pope Francis also stresses the essential fact that mission must originate from a profound encounter with Jesus, from a faith experience and conviction that Jesus loves and saves us, from a heart filled with the joy that only the Gospel could bring, from a heart that is moved by the Holy Spirit to share with others, so that our joy and theirs may be complete (see 1 John 1:4). Without Jesus and the Holy Spirit, mission is not a going forth that comes from the Father. It becomes a human project, a social or civic program, which may be good per se, but may not be Christian or ecclesial mission in the true meaning of the word `mission´. True Christian mission requires true witnesses. We need authentic missioners, not just workers. We hope that we could keep and promote this orientation in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

VN: Finally, what is your wish for the Holy Father on this anniversary of his pontificate?

Cardinal Tagle: I wish that Pope Francis may continue to discover and manifest God´s gift and promise to the Church and to humanity when he was called to the Petrine ministry seven years ago. May he be consoled by the prayers and love of many people. And I want to say, “Holy Father, stay well and joyful!”

12 March 2020, 12:01