“I accept this election in the name of all the poor people in the world.” With these words, the Filipino cardinal, Luis Antonio Tagle, accepted his election as the new President of Caritas Internationalis.
He is the first Asian to head this confederation of Catholic Church charity agencies (including Catholic Relief Services) from 165 countries and will lead the organization for the next four years. His election was widely expected. He gained 91 out of the 133 votes cast in the ballot on Thursday afternoon, May 14, at the organization’s General Assembly in Rome. He succeeds the dynamic Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras who has held this high-profile post for the past eight years.
Speaking to the 300 delegates from across the globe by phone from Chicago (where he was receiving a doctorate from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago) after his election, he thanked them for the “trust” they put in him. “I'm limited in my capacities but with all of you, with the love that Jesus has poured into our hearts and in the name of all the poor people in the world, I accept this election. Let us together strengthen the church of the poor so our witness can help build a world of understanding justice, true freedom and peace.”
His election comes at a crucially important moment in the history of the church and of the world. It comes on the eve of Pope Francis’ much awaited encyclical on ecology which will be published in June. It also come months before two major international events that are of great importance for the future of humanity: the U.N. Summit to agree goals for sustainable development in the world, which will be held in New York next September, and the U.N. Conference on Climate Change that will be held in Paris at the end of November and early December.
A charismatic and inspiring leader, he will be a powerful voice on the world stage on the issues that will be central to the encyclical and to the U.N. summits. He will be a forceful advocate on those issues because, coming from the Philippines, with its more than 7,000 islands, he knows well what poverty means, and the damage done by the growing gap between rich and poor and the strengths and failures of the present economic system. He is profoundly conscious of the need to help the victims of natural disasters and is convinced of the pressing need to address climate change. He is keenly aware of the problem of migration, as 11 million of his own Filipino people have had to leave their homeland to escape poverty over recent years.
The 57-year-old cardinal, who has been archbishop of Manila since October 2011, studied in the Philippines, the United States and Italy. He is a humble, deeply spiritual and friendly man who resembles Pope Francis in many ways. He lives a simple life, uses public transport and is close to the poor. He fully shares the approach and vision of the first pope from the southern hemisphere and is very close him, as was plain for all to see when Francis visited the Philippines in January.
He is an excellent choice to lead Caritas Internationalis whose mission is to express the love and charity of Christ to the peoples of the world, and especially the poor, by helping the Catholic Church be a Church for the poor, respond to major emergencies, promote sustainable development and thereby eliminate hunger and poverty, promote care for creation, and build “global solidarity.”
A gifted communicator, he will certainly inspire Caritas’ more than 2 million volunteers who work in 200 countries, and he will challenge and encourage world leaders about the needs to address the great problems of humanity.
Already seen as the most inspiring church leader in Asia and considered a candidate to be pope at the 2013 conclave, this new position casts him even more into the international spotlight and gives great openings for his natural talents. He will be an immense asset to Caritas Internationalis in its global mission.