Luis Antonio G. Tagle

What kind of a leader is the new Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio G. Tagle? What are his vision, mission, values and plans? Does he have an activist streak, an inclination to lead another People Power revolution? Will he speak out on public issues? Or will he be conservative and stay close to faith and morals in leading the people of God?

Focus on Jesus. His answer to these questions during his first homily at the Manila Cathedral on Nov. 12 was crisp and clear, “(Don’t look at me, I am not important.) But like John the Baptist I am inviting you to focus on the One mightier than all of us, Jesus Christ, the Risen One and the True Shepherd of the Church. My Episcopal Motto says it plainly, ‘Dominus est! It is the Lord!’”

Plainly then, he does not want to be known as the head (technically, he leads only one archdiocese but traditionally the archbishop of Manila is regarded as the primate of the Philippines); instead, he points to Jesus Christ as the real Leader, Teacher and Master of all. And like the Lord Jesus, his role model, he nonetheless made absolutely clear who he was (a disciple of the Great Master), what his objectives were (to follow His directions) and how he intended to accomplish them (to have faith fueled by prayer and love).

So, he exclaimed, “…when we pray, we are transformed, we see differently. A child, especially the unborn, is no longer seen as a burden but a gift, the youth are not a problem but a promise, women are not objects but persons, laborers are not machines but partners, the poor, the differently abled are not nuisance but our jewels, and creation is not an object of manipulation but a sign of God’s sustaining love.”

Clarity of mission. How well indeed he articulates the theology of faith, life, marriage and social reforms; so simply worded, but so deeply meant; so humbly said, but so loftily aimed; so directed at old problems but so transforming with new solutions. I do not think he will be a fire and brimstone orator; he is more effective with his soft eloquence; he speaks from the heart.

I think he will be firm on social issues, like the right to life that is being eroded by the Reproductive Health bill; or the sanctity of marriage that is being vilified by a creeping divorce mentality.

I do not see him interfering in strictly secular and divisive political events. In his homily, he emphasized the need for unity in the mission of Christ. In his words, “…we need to follow the Lord in our mission not individually, but together as the disciples did… Divisiveness and destructive competition will only help sink the boat. Let us look to the one Shepherd who gathers his sheep instead of scattering them.”

And this mission of unity does not apply only to Catholics in the Philippines but to all in the whole world. Indeed, the Catholic Church is universal. It operates in every nation, in every place where there are souls to be saved and served. It is present not just in the Philippines. It is present in China, India, Russia and Vietnam.

If perceived as an unwanted interventionist in strictly secular affairs and as a threat to civil governance, the Church will be stifled by the authorities in these populous countries from its primary mission of saving souls. Absent a direct, clear and present danger to the faith, he will—I think—stay in the cloisters of the Church.

Personally known to and having worked closely with Pope Benedict XVI when the latter was still president of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, Archbishop Tagle is familiar with Vatican affairs.

Clarity of person. His clarity of mission is matched only by the clarity of his persona. Those who really know him are enthused by his legendary humility. Former Ambassador to the Vatican Henrietta (Tita) de Villa never tires of relating how, as the then bishop of Imus, Monsignor Tagle arrived in a tricycle at a fiesta in Cavite, “He must have sensed my consternation. A bishop riding in a tricycle! But he had no pretenses, no arrogance. He matter-of-factly replied, ‘Mas praktikal po ang sumakay sa tricycle. Madaling makalusot sa traffic.’”

Inquirer Chair Marixi Prieto is also his unabashed admirer. She works with him in supporting the Sisters of Mary establish several “Boystowns” and “Girlstowns” that serve as schools and “live-in” homes for deserving indigent youth by giving them free food, clothing, shelter, medical-dental services while enjoying full high school and vocational education. In these benevolent schools, two in Cavite and two in Cebu, every student is a full scholar.

Those who regularly follow his Sunday TV program “The Word Exposed” rightly swear to his depth of thought and simplicity of language. Ever aspirational, he aims high but is never quixotic. He realizes the eternity of his mission, but he also concedes the human limits of his person. He is a consensus builder rather than a solo performer.

I am grateful for the many times I have met him. I see him leading the people of God to a new beginning, a new transformation, a new evangelization rooted in time-tested values of Christian hope, faith and love.

He has kindly agreed to deliver the invocation and blessing during the musicale my family is sponsoring to mark my 75th birthday. Aware of his brilliant baritone voice, I half teased him, “Sana po isaawit ninyo and inyong panalangin.” In characteristic humility, he replied, “Hindi ko po yata kaya yon.” Will he sing his praises to the Lord? We will know soon enough, two days from now.

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