An Asian Francis?
“(AS) FATHER of all, I cannot be wrapped in a political flag” of (my) native Argentina, Pope Francis said.
Such remarks gave “centrists in the church a new lease on life,” writes Boston Globe reporter John Allen in his new book, published by Time magazine: “The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church.”
One good example is Cardinal Luis Tagle, 57, of Manila. “He rejects ostentation in dress and manners, preferring to be called by his nickname ‘Chito.’” He has come to be known as the “Asian Francis.”
That echoes a March 2015 BBC “Hardtalk” interview of Tagle. Stephen Sackur asked: “There’s never been an Asian pope. Your name is mentioned as a serious contender in a future conclave. You could be the first Asian pope. Has that crossed your mind?”
“No, it’s a joke. In fact…” Tagle said, but could not finish as BBC interjected: “A lot of people did not raise the possibility as a joke. They think in the future the next pope could come from the global south.”
“The holy father comes from Argentina. But me in that position? No, no, I laugh at it,” Tagle protested. “That’s a creation of some people with imagination. Here, I make a public confession I cannot even manage my life. How can I manage a worldwide community?”
“Well, you do a good line at self-deprecation,” BBC noted.
Tagle emphasizes “the need for the church to listen, as much as it talks,” Allen notes. “And he exudes a slow burn charisma.”
Tagle served earlier as bishop of Imus (Cavite). Writes Allen: He did not own a car, preferring to walk or hop on a jeepney. He invited beggars outside his cathedral to dine with him.
“Many told me that I’m not strong, that I don’t condemn enough,” Tagle is quoted to have said. “Pope Francis’ example helped resolve my doubts. Now I hear him say: ‘I’m a son of the church. I know the teachings of the church. But why should I condemn anyone?’”
Tagle opposed the Reproductive Health bill which requires government to make contraceptives available. He was criticized by some for not pushing harder.
“When a bishop threatened President Aquino with excommunication, Tagle did not join the fray. When Catholic activists labeled backers of the law ‘Team Patay,’ Tagle declined to put attack ad posters in Manila.”
Tagle says he’s open to allowing Catholics who divorce, then remarry to receive communion and other sacraments. Marriage is for life, he adds. “But openness comes in pastoral judgements, in concrete situations. No two cases are alike.”
Indeed “parroting positions of the hierarchy” is not “thinking with the church, Pope Francis insists. Thus, many on the right says Francis is not ‘their man.’” The daily Il Foglio had conservative commentators write: “Why We Don’t Like This Pope.”
“Francis determined not to use his ‘bully pulpit primarily to fight political battles over sexual morality.’ He has little patience with the ‘smells and bells’ of ornate rituals that conjure other worldliness of faith.”
In a Washington Post article, Rachel Held Evans slammed church services “that are nothing but hoopla.” Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports a quarter of Americans claim no religious affiliation. “When I left church at age 29, full of doubt, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity but an authentic faith,” Evans writes.
“We’re not as shallow as you might think. You can get coffee anywhere. But the church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by bands. But the church is the shared meal that brings us into the presence of God.
“What brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattés or skinny jeans, it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, communion, anointing of the sick—rituals Christians have been practicing for 2,000 years now.
“At the Episcopal Church, every week I find myself, at age 33, kneeling next to a gray-haired lady to my left and a gay couple to my right as I confess my sins and recite the Lord’s prayer.
“No one’s trying to sell me anything. Church attendance may be dipping,” Evans adds. “God can survive the Internet age. After all, He knows a thing or two about resurrection.”
Similar convictions “leave the Catholic middle as Francis’ main constituency,” Allen notes. These are people generally content with Catholic teaching but tend to be generous on how it is applied. They are capable of critical thought without being axiomatically hostile.
“They are hungry for reform but not for revolution. They long for leaders who can lift up the gamut of Catholic life rather than a selective version of church teaching tailored to advance theological or political agendas.”
Evangelical Catholicism was the watchword of the St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI eras, Allen observes. “Moderate realism seems to be the new direction under Francis.
“It does not make for sweeping revolutions in doctrine. But at the level of application and tone, it has the potential to shape a very different kind of Catholic church.”
Juan L. Mercado was a communication officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok. Thereafter, he was posted in FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, as attaché de cabinet. He wrote for the Inquirer as a regular columnist from February 2004 until December 2014.
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