Heir to the Rock

Heir to the Rock

(Photo courtesy GotQuestions.org)

What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.

— Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar in Prayer

CALOOCAN CITY, Metro Manila — Simon was his name but it remains that it was really in a strange meeting that he was told by Jesus that his new name would be Peter, especially considering the name Peter means ‘rock’.

Peter was ‘Petros’—a stone, whereas the Rock—‘Petra’, was Peter’s inspired confession of faith upon which the church would be built. In simple words, not built on Peter but on the truth that Jesus Christ was the Son of the Living God.

Jesus pronounced a blessing upon Peter and proclaimed Peter’s answer as having been derived from divine inspiration. He then stated, “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

So it has come to pass that the Christian Church was built on the works of the ‘first among the twelve’—the foundation of what is Christianity in the modern world.

And since its early beginnings during the hegemony of the idolatrous Romans, when they were persecuted and even fed to lions in the Coliseum, patriarchs of the Church were persons chosen by the revered elders from those who showed the highest form of faith in God and were mostly Italians.

In the early years of the Church, it was nigh impossible for a non-Italian to become its leader or become the supreme head. But this has changed as the years passed and others from different nationalities have become popes.

So there is hope that a Filipino in the person of the venerable Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle could become the next pontiff after Pope Francis. He is fast emerging as a frontrunner to succeed, as rumors grow about a looming papal resignation.

Tagle has recently visited the United Kingdom as a guest at the Anglican Lambeth Conference and the papabile offered a progressive message, a potential sign of what could be in store should the Filipino cardinal is hailed as the successor of Francis.

Rumors have been persistently circulating that the pope will soon be stepping down as leader of the Catholic Church due to failing health and several reports speculate that the former Archbishop of Manila, is one of two leading choices to succeed the Holy Father. The other contender for the papacy is the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest Cardinal Peter Erdő of Hungary.

According to the widely read Catholic Herald, whosoever would be anointed as the next leader of more than 1.2 billion Catholic Christians (according to Vatican figures) would determine the direction of the Church—there is a great emphasis on this because it is faced with problems which are most commonly mentioned in surveys as related to misbehavior of priests and issues related to their sexuality. Of late, over two-fifths of the survey respondents (43 percent) consider cases of pedophilia among priests to be the biggest problem.

Going back to the two who are in contention for the papacy, we note that Tagle, dubbed as the ‘Asian Francis’, is seen as representing the Church’s progressive wing, having criticized previously ‘harsh words’ against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics.

Such language could perhaps be set apart from the other front-runner for the papacy. Back in 2015—as Pope Francis was calling on Catholics to take in refugees—Cardinal Erdő had remarked that taking in refugees would be tantamount to human trafficking. Yet, the Hungarian cleric later expressed concern about tendencies to turn religions against one another. When he was asked rhetorically in an interview with Valasz On-Line in 2019, he replied: “Can a country, a continent, be called a Christian?” He likewise added: “I wouldn’t emphasize whiteness as a Catholic, though”.

A plus, though, for Cardinal Tagle is the fact that he appears to be very much of the school of Pope Francis, as pointed out by public sector worker and occasional writer Niall Gooch in his article published in UnHerd: “As an Argentinian Jesuit, the type of villain that looms large in his (Pope Francis’) mental furniture is the aggressive and chauvinistic nationalist leader, who cements his own power with cynical attacks on foreigners and the enemy within.”

In the Pope’s eyes, “a Christian country and culture are not one preoccupied with its own integrity and its own survival, but one which makes an unshakeable political imperative from the divine commands to welcome the stranger and to recognize all men as brothers.”

In his message last week then was Cardinal Tagle offering some indication for how he might guide the Catholic Church? At the very least, the speech in Kent offered a window into his thinking. A future Pope from Asia would also speak volumes about a Church growing more in the Global South, although also resurging in Cardinal Erdő’s backyard of central and eastern Europe. In that sense, both clerics come from countries where Catholicism remains strong. Yet, both Hungary and the Philippines are conservative countries, although this has not yet seemed to compromise Cardinal Tagle’s progressivism. Would Catholic traditionalists, however, really be able to accept his liberal message, and a cleric very much in the image of Pope Francis?

In comparison, Cardinal Erdő is a canon law expert and his appointment as pontiff would be hailed by conservatives because his attitude towards issues such as LGBTQ rights, abortion, reproductive rights, and other issues are more traditionalist. Whereas, Tagle’s possible papacy would focus most likely continue Pope Francis’s liberalization of the Church and bringing it closer to people amid the changing demographics of Catholicism.

A Catholic Herald report said: “(T)he election of a Pope from the Global South, would perhaps signal the changing face of Catholicism, and indicate that Pope Francis’ liberal direction had been (cemented).”

However, the report cautioned about too much enthusiasm about the Church being too liberal, as the College of Cardinals, despite being less and less European, is still conservative in nature.

The report also mentioned that Pope Francis also favors the current Vatican secretary of state and Italian Cardinal, Pietro Parolin, as the prospective next leader of the church.

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Despite this, Cardinal Tagle was appointed by the Holy Father in 2019 as the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Former Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See, Henrietta de Villa, said that this appointment “put him closer to the pope.

FOR your comments or suggestions, complaints or requests, just send a message through my email filespolice@yahoo.com.ph or text me at cellphone numbers 09054292382 for Globe subscribers and 09391252568 for Smart. Thank you and Mabuhay! (ai/mtvn)

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