'Rock star' cardinal talks big cities, small gestures

'Rock star' cardinal talks big cities, small gestures

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila arrives at the Synod Hall in Vatican City on Oct. 6, 2014. Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila arrives at the Synod Hall in Vatican City on Oct. 6, 2014. Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images.

.- Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle knows a thing or two about urban evangelization. Ranked among the youngest cardinals in the Catholic Church, he heads the Archdiocese of Manila, based in one of the most densely-populated cities in the world.

Dubbed the “rock star” of cardinals, the 57-year-old Tagle was recently appointed to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He was in Rome this month to attend the group’s plenary assembly, on the theme: “Encounter God in the heart of the city,” where he was a keynote speaker.

In a Feb. 6 interview with CNA, Cardinal Tagle offered his thoughts on evangelizing in the big city, how to discuss contraception with pastoral care, and the impact of Pope Francis’ symbolic gestures during his recent trip to the Philippines.  

The text of the interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.

Q. What are your impressions of – and hopes for – the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity?

Cardinal Tagle: This is my first time attending the plenary assembly for the Pontifical Council for the Laity. I’m a newly appointed member, and I’m very happy to know that this plenary assembly focuses on the big cities, the urban centers, the big metropolitan centers, and how the pastoral activities and the evangelizing mission of the Church can be accomplished in the big cities.

Pope Francis in his “Evangelii Gaudium,” his exhortation, stresses that in many parts of the world, people have been shifting from the agricultural, rural setting to the big cities. Centuries ago, the mission of the Church was tied to the regular human habitat of the time, which was the farms, the countryside. Now, that has been shifting, we should study the reality of the cities, and the challenges, and also the opportunities for evangelization.

Q: Looking at the Pope’s recent trip to the Philippines, how have we seen evangelization manifest itself after that visit? Has there been an impact that you’ve seen?

Cardinal Tagle: The event itself has been, for us, a sort of special blessing – the turnout of the people, the enthusiasm, the cooperation of everyone – it was really a moment of grace, and also of national import. Sustaining the fruits of that visit is now our main concern, and we have been focusing mainly on two things:

First, we have been inviting people to continue reading the messages, the homilies, the conferences of the Pope, continue reflecting on them, continue reflecting on the gestures of the Pope, the symbolic actions of the Pope. For only in a sustained mode of prayer, meditation, reflection, would we be able to relish more. Because listening already has an impact, but there is still much more to discover.

Secondly, not just a notional meditation or study of the messages, but allowing the message to hit us, to enter our hearts, to call us to a conversion, to call us to a review of life, etc., and from there, also to move into action – both individual action that everyone must implement in his or her life, but also, hopefully, together as a community, as a nation, as a Church. So that’s how we envision the post-visit efforts.

Q: You mentioned the importance of the symbolism of Pope Francis’ gestures. We think back on his visit with the young impoverished children at the shelter outside the Manila cathedral.

Cardinal Tagle: That shelter visited by the Pope is one of the many such symbols. I’m very happy that the Holy Father visited it, for he brought to the attention of many people what the Church and other NGOs have already been doing to address the needs of the street children. Because of the need to protect children themselves and their privacy, we don’t want them to be exposed to the scrutiny of so many people, so many of these projects have remained, in a way, hidden. But the visit of the Pope highlighted not only the situation of the children, but also good efforts that already exist, and we hope more people will support those actions, and also think of their own creative responses to those situations.

Q: How do you emphasize the poor’s material needs without neglecting spiritual needs?

Carinal Tagle: As far as the Church is concerned, we realize, of course, that the Church is not a parallel government. The Church is not a financial institution. The Church, in the words of Pope Francis, is not a non-governmental organization (NGO). It is a spiritual and missionary body.

So, it must be able to provide spiritual care for the poor, because we cannot expect other groups to do that. That’s another form of poverty: denying the poor access to spiritual, pastoral care. So the Church must do that, and the Church must accompany its action of education, providing food and shelter to the poor to the best of its ability, but always underlying that is the pastoral and spiritual care. Keeping the balance is always a challenge. Some would fall into the trap of being able to provide for the material needs, and somehow go slow on the spiritual, pastoral needs. But we are very much aware of our specific charism.

Q: The Pope made a number of strong statements on contraception. Have his words had any impact on those pushing for contraception legislation?

Cardinal Tagle: I think those who support the law knew from the very start the position of the Church. So I don’t think they were surprised that the Holy Father would reiterate the teaching of the Church, because the Holy Father is also very clear that while he is opening the doors of the Church as a compassionate and a merciful Church – meaning, trying to understand those who are finding some difficulties in their married life, etc. – he also says that he is a child, a son, of the Church. He is not at liberty to just invent his own teaching.

So, we see his affirmation of the teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. The Holy Father also alerted us to another aspect of the teaching of Paul VI, which is this: particular cases must be addressed individually, and they must be brought to the confessors, and the confessors must bring with them hearts of compassion and understanding as they evaluate particular situations and cases. There he was able to blend fidelity to teaching, and at the same time, seeing how individual cases are unique.

Q: How do we open the doors of those in a compassionate way without compromising the Church’s teaching?

Cardinal Tagle: I think it’s a matter also of pastoral approach.

For example, some people find difficulties in following some teaching of the Church, or they know the teachings of the Church, but they were subjected to some situations which are often not of their own choosing, or there are some factors which led them to some situation, which they know is not in harmony with the Church’s teaching. I think some people feel that, because they are not in harmony with the Church’s teaching, they’re already condemned. They’re outside the Church. That they have no place in the Church anymore. Maybe also, some priests made them feel that way. Whereas, what the Church has been proposing from the earliest of times, and what the Holy Father is reminding us again, is these people, who are having difficulties, they are the ones who need the Church’s guidance all the more. Maybe in a serene manner, let them realize the teachings of the Church. The teachings of the Church are not supposed to be oppressive. The teachings of the Church as ideals of the Christian life are actually quite liberating. When you talk about loving other people, when you talk about being truthful, when you talk about being just – those are not oppressive things. They make you better human beings.

An appreciation again of the beauty of the teachings of the Church, presented calmly, without any judgment, and then: how do we help those who are not in harmony with the Church? Sometimes, the situation has to be remedied. But, sometimes, the situation cannot be remedied any more.

So we consider: What is the pastoral approach to them, without making them feel that they are less children of God?

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