Cardinal Tagle on visit of Pope Francis to Philippines
(Vatican Radio) Ahead of the journey of Pope Francis to the Philippines later this month, the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, spoke with Vatican Radio about his hopes and expectations for the visit, as well as the history of Papal trips to the island nation, which is one of only two nations in Asia with a Catholic majority, and the third-largest Catholic country in the world. During the course of his broad-ranging conversation with the Director of English Programming at Vatican Radio, Seàn-Patrick Lovett, Cardinal Tagle also speaks of the role that the Holy Father’s predecessors had in his own formation. Please find audio and a full transcript of the interview, below.
Click below to hear our interview with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
Interview with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle – Archbishop of Manila
(conducted by the Director of English Programming at Vatican Radio, Seàn-Patrick Lovett)
Q. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, you are very busy preparing for the papal visit to the Philippines, the fourth papal visit to your country.
A. Yes, the fourth. The first was in 1970 with Blessed Paul VI, then in 1981 with John Paul II. He came back in 1995 for the World Youth Day. And now the fourth with Pope Francis.
Q. It’s 45 years since the visit of Paul VI and it’s 20 years since that of John Paul II. Back in 1970 there was a young man of 13 years old craning his head over the crowd trying to catch a glimpse of the Man in White. What do you remember about that visit of Paul VI?
A. The Philippines was just recovering from a typhoon at that time and my memories are still vivid of trees that had been denuded, no leaves at all, streets that were cleaned up hastily for the coming of the Pope, roads that had been paved again, etc… So just like this visit of Pope Francis, the Philippines had been recently ravaged by a typhoon. And the people were enthusiastic. They received Paul VI like a Grace from Heaven. And Paul VI made sure that he went to the poor also: he visited the poor families in the district of Tondo in Manila, known for being one of the poorest sections of the metropolitan area. And they still remember that visit. When I went to the parish for a feast-day, the parish priest and the leaders pointed out to me where the house Paul VI visited used to stand. When the Pope visits, memories and images and the effects of that visit are still there after 45 years.
Q. There are clear connections between these papal visits: the theme of mercy and compassion flows through all of them. So there’s a wonderful continuity.
A. Yes, there is. We need to remind people that when Pope Paul VI visited in 1970, the Bishops of Asia went to meet him. And there in Manila, with the encouragement of Paul VI, the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences was born. That was the beginning. The Pope also inaugurated Radio Veritas Asia in 1970 so that evangelization could happen through the radio. These are all things that remain. In a way, we consider his visit like an Asian reception of Vatican II – with the figure of the Pope telling us to dialogue, and the document Ecclesiam suam. Four years later in Taipei in1974, the first plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences took place on the theme: Evangelization in Modern Day Asia. And, according to Paul VI, the way to evangelize was through dialogue. So the events are really connected.
Q. And you have a special connection with Paul VI, don’t you?
A. Yes! Starting with that 13-year-old boy who was just curious about what a Pope is. Then I was sent by my diocese, my bishop, to do further studies in Ecclesiology, especially Vatican II, in Washington DC at the Catholic University of America. I discussed the programme of studies with my professors, Cardinal Avery Dulles and Fr. Komonchek, and I told them my purpose for coming was to study the Church and Vatican II. They told me that so many works have already been published on the subject. So they said we’ll try to find a door for you to enter Vatican II and Ecclesiology – but a door that is rarely used. And behold! One day they said: “Why don’t you study Paul VI?”.
Q. Was there already a vocation in that young man of 13?
A. No, not a clear one. At the time, though, we were taught how to pray and to read the Word of God so, in a way, I was already meditating and praying the lectio divina – although I didn’t know it. I recall how the visit of the Pope created in me, evoked in me, a religious experience. A teacher of mine who made us write some journals told me later: “It seemed like you had a religious experience with that visit of the Pope”. I didn’t know, I didn’t understand, what a religious experience was. Working on Vatican II and through Paul VI, I was able to understand. When he came to the Philippines I still didn‘t know, I didn’t realize, that one day I too would have to travel a journey of my own: I would have to journey into his heart, into his mind.
Q. Not many people make connections between Paul VI and Pope Francis. Do you?
A. Oh yes, I do! When people say, either positively or negatively: “Pope Francis is creating a revolution, he is dialoguing, embracing the poor”, I say I have already seen that in Paul VI, in his own way, in his own personality. This intuition, this insight that Pope Francis seems to be picking up and doing again, I witnessed all that in my studies and in my encounter with Paul VI back then in the Philippines. The symbolic gestures of Paul VI seem to have paved the way for Pope Francis.
Q. Pope Francis said that he’s coming to bring a message of compassion to the poor, to the victims of the typhoon and the earthquake and he wants to give them a privileged place in his public meetings. He’s also talked about saving money.
A. Yes, that has been a mark of his papal visits. It was the same in Korea. The Korean bishops told us Filipinos who were in Korea for the visit, that the Pope will not be happy if he sees ostentatious preparations. Even the design of the altar must speak of the sobriety that has been the mark of this Pope, of his simplicity.
Q. The people of the Philippines are very generous in expressing their affection. Has it been difficult to hold them back?
A. In a way, yes. But then we explained to the people, not only the desires of the Pope, but the signs of the times. We do not want to cause scandal. Everyone can find an excuse to give him a lavish welcome – after all he is the Pope. Still, we should be mindful of the many people we need to welcome in our midst on a daily basis: the poor and the hungry. So whatever savings we make from the papal trip, will go to charity, will go to the poor. And the Pope is very explicit about that.
Q. There was a lot of world attention on the Philippines after the typhoon, but you have often spoken about the daily typhoons that affect the Philippines.
A. Yes, we’re used to having typhoons – an average of 20 to 22 a year. We’re used to having earthquakes of different magnitudes. They catch the attention of the world because of the extent of the devastation. But as I’ve said on many occasions, we should not forget the daily typhoons, the daily earthquakes, caused by poverty, caused by corruption, caused by indecent business deals and unfair practices. Even when the sun is shining, darkness sets in on the lives of so many people.
Even during the Synod of Bishops on the Family I reminded people in the small groups how, for us in Asia, poverty is not something extrinsic to the family. It cuts through the core, the fabric of the family. When I visited a shelter for children and young people who are caught roaming the streets at night, I realized that the parents tolerate it when they know there are government agencies that can take in their children and feed them in the shelters. This is not parents neglecting their children. These are parents who have nothing to feed their children. So they say: “Why don’t you go out and when the police take you to the shelter, go with them. You’ll be safe there for the night. You have a roof above you and food for the night”.
Q. Pope Francis has said he wants the attention to be focused not on himself, but on Jesus in the faces of the poor. What other guidelines has he given you for this visit?
A. How can I put it? He doesn’t want to waste time on things that might distract him from his mission, from the focus of his mission which is really to encounter the poor and to listen to the poor. During papal visits, many people ask: “May we spend a minute with the Pope? May we offer this or that?”… They are all good things, but if you have only three days you have to choose.
And he has to conserve his energy too. These long flights, the change of climate, change of time, the change of food, etc., they could drain a person who has turned 78 of energy that might be better used to focus on his mission. So we’re helping him to focus. One thing we are focussing on is his meetings with families and with young people in Manila. But even in those encounters he will listen to stories of families in difficulty, those who have suffered different typhoons in life, and he will listen to young people. There is a kind of typhoon, as I said, that doesn’t happen in one place only – it happens everywhere. The Pope will listen and he will give them a word of comfort. But I hope for more: I hope that he, the Pope, will be strengthened in his own faith by these poor people.
Q. What is one of the biggest challenges for you, as Archbishop of Manila, in organizing something as complex as this visit?
A. It’s really bringing people together. We have assembled a beautiful team from the government, from the business sector, from the Church. This is already a fruit of the papal visit. The Universal Pastor creates a sense of family. And I’m very happy. I’m sure that even after the visit, this sense of communion, of working together in collaboration, will continue. I want to sustain that collaboration.
Q. What do you think will characterise this visit?
A. Encounters with a lot of suffering. But the Christian message doesn’t end with suffering. There is always a Resurrection. And I hope the Holy Father will see that among those who have suffered and continue to suffer.