March 22, 2013

Two Philippine cardinals, Luis Antonio Tagle and Gaudencio Rosales, returned to the Philippines on Thursday after spending the last few weeks at the Vatican to witness the papal transition that elected Pope Francis as
successor to Benedict XVI.

Tagle was one of the names mentioned by Vatican watchers as “papabile” or possible successors, but he said
it was far from his mind as he entered the papal conclave. He dismissed his candidacy as media speculation.

“It was very clear to me that the task, the mission of the cardinals, is to elect a new pope, and not to have yourself elected,” the 55-year-old archbishop said.

Rosales, who at 81 years old was no longer eligible to participate in the conclave that limited participation to cardinals aged 80 years and below, said he was on the sidelines praying for the papal election.

“God, through the expression of the Holy Spirit, using the cardinals, had chosen the man – simple, humble, prayerful, a real witness to the people around and to the church – really a great surprise from God,” Rosales said.

Since his election a week ago, Francis has set the tone for a new, humbler papacy, calling on the Church to defend the poor and disadvantaged.

In his first few days in office, Francis has repeatedly put out the message of bringing the church closer to the faithful by ignoring Vatican pomp as much as he can, opting to tour St. Peter’s Square in an open white jeep
and holding a shorter inaugural mass, even dressing in more austere vestments than his predecessor.

Anecdotes of him taking the bus in Buenos Aires, cooking his own meals and living in an apartment endeared him to the Catholic public, many of whom called it a breath of fresh air.

Tagle said he witnessed the accessible side of Pope Francis during a meal shared with cardinals, when the pontiff approached him carrying a message from a Filipino priest in Buenos Aires who wished to send greetings to the Manila archbishop.

Tagle added that while he was a bishop, he would even receive letters from the Buenos Aires cardinal after working with him at the Synod of Bishops in 2005 and in a eucharistic congress in Quebec in 2008.

“He knew how to reach out to people, he does not look at the ranking. He knows how to affirm people, how to encourage, and I’ve experienced that. So, of course, he cannot avoid making policies, all that, as a pope. But
I think the gift, the one unique gift that he will bring is personal encounter, which is really important for the church,” Tagle told reporters.

He said Pope Francis’s message of reaching out to the poor and staying humble was nothing new, and only goes back to Jesus Christ’s original gospel message.

Tagle clarified the pope’s recent sermon, which said the Catholic church must not act like an ordinary charity, and must have faith at the heart of its mission.

Tagle said that in their brief exchange, the pope said he was optimistic about the Philippines, which counts four-fifths of its 92 million population as Roman Catholic.

Nearly a third of the country lives below the poverty line.

“At least the message that was given to me was quite compact but still quite compelling: having high hopes for the church of the Philippines, but also asking us to deepen our faith through our devotion to our Lady, and mission to the poor,” Tagle said.

Rosales said he invited Pope Francis

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