Cardinal Tagle chokes up while recalling grandfather’s migration story

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is moved as he recalls his grandfather at a Vatican press conference, June 15, 2021. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is moved as he recalls his grandfather at a Vatican press conference, June 15, 2021./ Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle choked up Tuesday while sharing the story of his grandfather’s migration journey from China to the Philippines as a child.

Speaking during a Vatican press conference June 15, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said that visiting refugee camps in Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, and Bangladesh, reminded him of his migrant roots.

“In them, I saw my grandfather who was born in China, but was forced to leave his homeland as a young boy with his uncle for the Philippines in search of a better future,” Tagle said, pausing for a short time as he became visibly emotional.

The Filipino cardinal explained in a letter for Easter 2017 that his maternal grandfather was born in China, but his mother sent him to live in the Philippines because of her poverty.

Tagle also spoke about his Chinese roots in a 2017 book.

“I think some Chinese characteristics have passed onto me, even though my grandfather spent most of his life in the Philippines,” he said.

“I remember certain practices he observed, such as honoring his mother by offering her food, putting it in front of her photograph, with a few sticks of incense, or setting off fireworks to welcome the New Year, or offering a lot of food during family meals.”

At his grandfather’s request, Tagle studied the Chinese language for a time in his boyhood, though he said in the book he regretted that he did not stick with it.

The cardinal’s mother, Milagros Gokim, is Chinese Filipino and his father, Manuel Topacio Tagle, is ethnic Tagalog. They are both in their early 90s and still live in the Philippines.

They raised Tagle and his younger brother Manuel Gokim Tagle Jr. in a devoutly Catholic home. Both worked at a bank.

Tagle, who also goes by his nickname of “Chito,” spoke about his personal experience with immigration during a press conference ahead of the June 20 conclusion of “Share the Journey,” a four-year global campaign by Caritas Internationalis.

Through “Share the Journey,” national Caritas agencies organized events and initiatives with the goal of promoting a culture of encounter with migrants and refugees.

Tagle has been president of Caritas Internationalis since 2015.

Before being appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in December 2019, the 63-year-old cardinal was archbishop of Manila for nine years.

During the June 15 presser, Tagle described his emotional meetings with refugees over the last six years.

In reference to his visits to the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps in Bangladesh in 2018 and 2019, he said: “I remember that I had mixed feelings. A part of me rejoiced that they were being given the attention they deserved as human beings. But at the same time, a part of me continued to be sad because I wondered if this was a permanent state of life for them or temporary.”

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He said he could not imagine how parents in that situation respond if their children ask them what the future holds.

“The Share the Journey campaign has been a great moment of encounter, solidarity, and for us, memory, and above all an expression of love. An expression of the love of the Church for people on the move. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, followers of other religions, and those with no religion were received as human persons,” Tagle said.

“At a time when COVID-19 should lead to global solidarity, and at the same time when the States are more concerned with protecting their own citizens, with the risk of intensifying selfishness and the fear of strangers, the end of Caritas Internationalis’ global campaign is a call to continue to share the journey with migrants, especially at this most difficult moment,” he said.

“The campaign formally ends, but the mission continues.”

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