Manila’s new archbishop able to laugh at himself


IMUS, Philippines — On a recent Sunday morning, Nemie Anciado squinted against the searing sun shining on the doorway of the crowded Our Lady of the Pillar Cathedral.

Anciado, in his 60s, has been a longtime custodian at the cathedral, where Archbishop Luis Tagle served as bishop from 2001 until his recent appointment to his new post as head of the Manila Archdiocese.

Anciado said he has mixed feelings about Archbishop Tagle’s new assignment. He said he’s sad to lose him and happy that “he will be able to grow in his new position.”

Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, Philippines (CNS/Carol Glatz)

“There’s so much we like about the (archbishop),” said Anciado. “He really takes care of people … he’s so simple and generous and there’s no class structure when he deals with people; everyone is equal in his eyes. He lives such a beautiful life.”

After a while, Anciado wasn’t just squinting away the sunlight, he was blinking back tears. He said Archbishop Tagle, a known advocate for the poor, was a tremendous help to him personally. On his meager salary, Anciado put six daughters through college, and he said when things really got tight, the archbishop gave him money.

“He never expected anything in return,” Anciado explained. “All he asked was that whoever he helped should draw closer to God.”

Drawing closer to God was an essential lesson that Father Allan Valero learned from Archbishop Tagle, who was his seminary professor, and whom he called a brother, father and friend.

Father Valero said Archbishop Tagle is a very joyful person with a sense of humor, and the 54-year-old is the kind of person “everyone always wants to be around.”

“He enjoys what he does; whenever he has bloopers or makes mistakes, he can still laugh at himself,” said Father Valero. “He can be serious, of course, when need be, but he can always look at the lighter side of things.”

Valero is the parish priest at the cathedral in Imus. He said his position in the church is “moderator.”

“As a moderator you become more involved, not like as a leader of a hierarchical structure,” he explained. “Here in Cavite (province) we’re not really into titles. We’re here to serve … we work as a team. It’s a team ministry. And it was (Archbishop Tagle) who started this.”

Father Valero said the dismantling of the traditional top-down structure in the church is one of the reasons he has enjoyed working with the new archbishop.

“He encourages people, he delegates work. He trusts people to work with him. And that’s how we learn,” the priest said.

Archbishop Tagle, who earned a doctorate in sacred theology at The Catholic University of America, Washington, honed his theological expertise at the Vatican under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He seems to break from tradition in certain areas, such as the organizational structure he instituted in the Imus Diocese and holding the position of longtime editorial board member of the sometimes dubbed “liberal” Italian publication on the history of Vatican II, Storia del Concilio Vaticano II.

But he does not deviate on issues such as the reproductive health legislation being debated in the Philippine Congress. Many Catholics are looking to him to reunite the Philippine church, which has splintered over the reproductive health issue.

Admirers have widely lauded the theological gifts of the bishop known as Chito, so much so that there’s “papal buzz” over his abilities.

“The depth of his understanding of theology was already at a far more superior level during our college years,” said Ricardo Jalbuena, who attended a prominent Jesuit university with Archbishop Tagle. “It was always enlightening to have Chito around.”

Jalbuena described the archbishop as a gifted speaker who does not shy away from modern media.

“He’s familiar with (it) such that God’s word could be readily communicated and understood by all,” he said.

The newly elected archbishop was hard to reach in the days following his Oct. 13 appointment, but he was not to be missed on his weekly gospel program on the YouTube channel of Ateneo de Manila University’s Jesuit Communications Foundation.

At the end of his Oct. 19 video on YouTube, the archbishop, who speaks with ease on the show, haltingly chose his words about his challenging new assignment as head of a highly influential archdiocese in this predominantly Catholic country.

“Uh, way beyond my expectations and, uh, well beyond my self-knowledge and, uh, self-estimation, this mission is uh-uh … much heavier than what I can handle,” he said. “It’s overwhelming. I cannot imagine how a person like me with my own limitations and my sinfulness could embrace such a — such an immense mission,” he said.

But the new archbishop, with growing confidence and clarity, said the appointment was a real test of his ability to love.

“Can I say yes and give my soul, my mind, my strength to God who has loved me first?” he asked. “And can I love neighbors, those to whom I’m not related, especially … the teeming masses of the poor in Manila, would I love them as I love myself? I hear this calling and I tremble before it but I know, I know, it is the real calling: to love.”