Sunday, December 08, 2019

As Star of the "New" Evangelization, Pope Calls "Golden Child" to Rome

Over the seven years since Francis' election, the activity of the Roman Curia has largely taken a back-seat to the doings of the Pope himself. Yet while that reality is due to a number of factors, for once, it is certainly not the case today.

In an extraordinarily rare Sunday announcement – and on a major feast, no less – at Roman Noon on the Immaculate Conception, Francis named Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, 62, until now the head of Asia's largest diocese in Manila, as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples: the 400 year-old entity which oversees the missionary works of the global church.

The last cardinal to be elevated by Benedict XVI before his resignation from the papacy, Tagle's full-time arrival on the Vatican stage – and the massive notice it'll be showered with – reflects that rarest of things on this beat: genuine, undisputed "star power." Over his decade on the global scene, the new Propaganda chief has attracted a cult following that extends well beyond the sizable Filipino diaspora worldwide, in large part given his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve (and, with it, use his sleeve as a Kleenex).

In terms of the "old Curia," today's move represents Francis' most significant personnel pick since the then-new pontiff named now-Cardinal Pietro Parolin as his Secretary of State within six months of his election in 2013. Then again, not for nothing has the prefect of the Prop Fide long been dubbed the "Red Pope" for the considerable power that the post exercises across a broad swath of the Catholic world.

Known mostly by his own nickname, "Chito," Tagle's habit for either riding a bicycle or the bus even after becoming a bishop at 44 saw him cited as a sentimental papabile going into the 2013 Conclave, and while his seasoning since has kept that thought in evidence through Francis' pontificate, the addition of a major Curial post on his CV will inevitably be seen in some quarters as a move toward "succession planning" on the part of the reigning Pope, who once reportedly confused the boyish-looking cardinal for a seminarian in an elevator at the Domus.

In that light, given his new office's mammoth real-estate holdings and liquid assets – all accrued over centuries to fund the mission works – the fresh scrutiny on the Vatican's portfolios amid a new round of financial scandals hands Tagle (pron.: "Tahg-LAY") an equally formidable challenge, both in terms of the daily stewardship of de Prop Fide's sprawling resources and, even more, flagging concerns over mismanagement.

Given that, as well as the congregation's responsibility for recommending appointments of bishops in the mission territories, this particular assignment can be viewed as a "test-pilot" for the papacy itself, arguably more than any other role. At the same time, though Francis' long-awaited constitution to drastically reform the Roman Curia remains in edits with his "Gang of 6" cardinal-advisers, it is notable that the last major draft of the text, titled Predicate Evangelium ("Preach the Gospel"), would see the Propaganda absorb the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which Benedict XVI founded during the 2010-11 Pauline Year.

A theological historian of Vatican II, as the cardinal received his doctorate not in Rome, but at the Catholic University of America in Washington (under Fr Joseph Komonchak), today's move brings the first Roman stint of Chito's 37-year priesthood. Even prior to today's move, however, Tagle was already a regular in the city for his secondary work as president of Caritas Internationalis, the worldwide confederation of the church's charitable and humanitarian efforts.

Beyond his extensive travel, Tagle's visibility in the wider church has been bolstered by The Word Exposed – the half-hour TV program he hosts in metro Manila on each Sunday's readings, which is syndicated to other Catholic media outlets worldwide.

Today's move was made possible by Francis' transfer of Cardinal Fernando Filoni – the Propaganda's head since 2011 – to be grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. A former Sostituto best known as the lone ambassador who didn't flee Baghdad's "Green Zone" during the US-led invasion in 2003, it's notable that Filoni was moved 16 months before reaching the retirement age of 75.

With Filoni's appointment to the Grand Magistrate, the Bronx-born Cardinal Edwin O'Brien has retired as head of the millennium-old order dedicated to the protection of the holy sites in Jerusalem and Palestine, and the general support of the church in the Holy Land.

The 15th archbishop of Baltimore, and a Vietnam vet who later served a decade as chief of the 1.5 million US Catholics serving in uniform around the world, O'Brien has kept up a frenetic pace of travel on the order's behalf despite turning 80 in April.

In a change of his long-set plans, while O'Brien had aimed to return to the US – specifically, Baltimore and not New York – on his release from the Holy Sepulchre post, a Whispers op close to the cardinal relays that he will instead keep his primary base in Rome for the time being.

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SVILUPPO: Even if formal word of Tagle's appointment surfaced at 7pm Manila time, the Chancery of the Pinoy capital says that the new prefect's first comment on the move won't come until tomorrow's Mass of the Immaculate Conception, the national patroness of the Philippines.

All told, meanwhile, if the epic significance of this move can be boiled down to an analogy from history, this is it: