POSTSCRIPT / February 9, 2020 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Who’ll be the next Manila archbishop?

OUR Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle will soon be leaving for Rome — to assume his new role as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or Propaganda Fide.

Since the appointment was announced Dec. 8, his position of Archbishop of Manila has been considered vacant, although he is still busy at work. At a dinner of bishops, priests and diplomats the other night, the hot topic was who will fill Tagle’s shoes as archbishop of Manila.

Some names being mentioned are those of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, fondly called Bishop Ambo, of the Diocese of Caloocan. Both are known for their critical view of President Duterte, especially his bloody war on drugs, which is often cited in the same breath as extrajudicial killings.

David even posted a statement on his Facebook page quoting Pope Francis telling him during their Ad Limina visit to the Vatican to continue his fight against Duterte’s war on drugs. The Pope told him: “I know what you are going through. I am praying for you. Please continue.” The Pope whispered to him, “Courage!”

Villegas and David are the opposite of Tagle in how they deal with Duterte. Tagle’s style has been one of silence, not so much turning the other cheek but more of refusing to stoop down to the level of verbal lashing and bashing.

Some quarters have criticized him for his silence on some issues. However, taking the high road has proven to be the wiser path: it kept the lines to the Palace open.

At around this time last year, when there was word that some priests were receiving death threats, the President himself publicly responded to the Cardinal’s text message that expressed concern. He assured the Cardinal that no such threats were being made.

By keeping the communication lines open, Tagle effectively put a stop to the harassment of priests by reaching out to the President himself.

Another name being floated is that of Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara. He is probably at the top of the list because, like Tagle, he is Jesuit-trained, earning his Masters in Philosophy at the Ateneo de Manila University and his Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Loyola School of Theology.

Unlike Tagle, however, Vergara has also been vocal against Duterte. In an interview with Vatican News, he was quoted as saying: “When we talk of basic human rights like, for instance, the right to life, the sacredness of life, this is where the Church speaks… when it is violated… even the many killings happening, we ask for government to address this… we pray there is resolution to killings and injustice done… we want the State to resolve these basic issues.”

But Pope Francis has the option to choose even an ordinary priest. Some “ordinary” priests mentioned who have performed extraordinarily well include:

*Msgr. Hernando “Ding” Coronel of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or Quiapo Church who has successfully headed several Traslacion or procession of the image of the Black Nazarene the past few years.

*Msgr. Esteban Bong Lo, the National Director of Pontifical Mission Societies Philippines and simultaneously Chaplain of the RCAM — Chapel of the Eucharistic Lord in SM Megamall —  who successfully staged in 2019 a grand Pista ng Misyon (Feast of the Mission) at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.

Other priests, meanwhile, are eyeing to follow Tagle to the Vatican. Fr. Nono Alfonso, SJ, of the Jesuit Communications (Jescom) has reportedly gone on an aggressive campaign since December to join Tagle at the Vatican, using Tagle’s Youtube show The Word Exposed, which is produced by Jescom.

However, a “Concert for Peace” organized last January by Jescom as part of a conference at the Araneta Coliseum embarrassed Cardinal Tagle. Some priests who were present noted that although the stadium was filled for the conference talk of Tagle during the day, the late afternoon concert was so poorly directed that the popular Cardinal was forced to sing to an almost empty stadium.

Worse, the voice-over rudely announced that the program was over even before the Cardinal started singing his final song. That forced him to sing while people were walking out of the stadium.

In the end, it was Cardinal Tagle himself who saved the show by being gracious enough to gamely perform anyway, and the remaining audience stayed and enjoyed it.

Many priests at the event also lamented the presence of bodyguards around Tagle, reportedly placed by Jescom to prevent people from getting too close to him. Many witnesses questioned this as the Cardinal is known to be very approachable.

This time, however, not even priests known to be close to the Cardinal could approach him as they were blocked by the bodyguards and a very officious Jescom staff.

Upon assuming his new office in Rome, Tagle will be called Cardinal Prefect.

It is reported that he will not only assume the existing office of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples but that Pope Francis will form a whole new office for him called the Dicastery for Evangelization.

Tagle will be responsible for all the institutional missionary activity of the Church, including the training of missionary clergy and the appointment of bishops to mission territories.

He will have the important mission of bringing material support to struggling churches in places like China and parts of Africa. He will have financial autonomy, but will be traveling to dangerous places where he will face the challenge of dealing diplomatically with some antagonistic leaders.

The saving grace is that Tagle will be doing what he does best — evangelizing.

With his signature charisma and ability to simplify complicated theological doctrines, it is hoped that the 62-year-old prince of the Church will be able to bring the much-admired strong faith of the Filipino people to other nationalities all over the globe.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 9, 2020)

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