Cheered by dancing nuns and priests, Luis Antonio Tagle on Monday assumed the post of archbishop of Manila with tears in his eyes and a reminder to himself never to let earthly glories blind him to his mission to be a servant of God.
As his parents looked on, the 54-year-old Tagle was formally installed as the 32nd archbishop of the country’s premier see in solemn rites at Manila Cathedral.
He took over from former Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales after the apostolic letter from Pope Benedict XVI announcing Tagle’s appointment was read and he was seated on the cathedra, or the bishop’s throne.
Tagle’s installation as the new shepherd of Manila’s estimated 2.8 million Catholics was attended by Church leaders from Southeast Asia, including the archbishops of Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Rangoon.
Tagle was emotional and stopped twice in his homily—once when he thanked the laity and the religious of his former diocese in Imus, Cavite province, and when he entrusted his ministry to the Virgin Mary—because tears had welled up in his eyes.
“I tremble before the love that calls me to lead the people to the Lord. But my poor sinful person finds rest in Him who is the Church’s true shepherd,” said Tagle, who chose the biblical verse “Dominus Est” (It is the Lord)! as his episcopal motto.
“I am also consoled to know that we would be building on the legacy of the loving service of 31 archbishops … and my immediate predecessor, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales … I feel humbled,” he said.
“There is so much that I will learn from you. Teach me. Be patient with me. Let us love one another at all times,” Tagle added.
Asked later why he became emotional, Tagle said: “Who will not be emotional when you are before God?”
‘Love propels us’
Tagle emphasized humility and “loving discipleship” as guideposts for his ministry even as some Vatican and other analysts have said he could be a papal contender.
“Merely assuming the position of archbishop of Manila does not guarantee that I will recognize the Lord. If I am not careful, it might even blind me to the Lord and others,” Tagle said.
“It is rather by being a humble disciple content with the love of Jesus that I would see the advent of him whose love propels us to mission. Love makes one a true shepherd, not position,” he added.
The Jesuit-educated Tagle became the fifth Filipino head of the Archdiocese of Manila in its more than 400-year history.
Analysts on Church affairs said Tagle would be a potent weapon against proposals to legalize divorce in the Philippines and improve access to contraception through his close links with the Catholic middle class and civil society groups.
Corona, Aquino sisters
Besides his parents Manuel and Milagros and his elder brother Manuel Jr., dignitaries from both the Church and the secular world packed the cathedral.
Chief Justice Renato Corona sat behind President Benigno Aquino III’s three sisters Ballsy, Pinky and Viel. The President was not present as he had to attend the turnover rites in Camp Aguinaldo for the new Armed Forces chief of staff.
Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., his wife Cavite Representative Lani Mercado and Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez sat with Tagle’s family in the front pew.
Also present were Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Pinto, US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., Philippine Ambassador Howard Dee, and Mayors Alfredo Lim (Manila), Guia Gomez (San Juan), Antonino Calixto (Pasay), Benhur Abalos (Mandaluyong), Jejomar Erwin Binay (Makati), Cavite Representative Joseph Abaya and Inquirer board chairperson Marixi Prieto.
“I’m happy but as you can see he cried because of the tasks he’s facing. He should just take care of himself, his health,” Tagle’s mother said.
“Like now, we brought along all of his vitamins,” she said, adding she never expected her son would one day be Archbishop of Manila.
The festivities began when Tagle stepped out of Arzobispado (archbishop’s residence) at 8:50 a.m. and joined the karakol dance-procession of priests and nuns going to the cathedral. A brass band led the way through bunting-laden side streets.
At the cathedral door, the mayors of the five cities in the archdiocese gave Tagle the symbolic keys to their cities.
Stressing unity, Tagle said the clergy and the laity and non-Catholic Christians were “called to one mission, though in various states of life and with a diversity of gifts.”
“When we take different boats and compete against each other to get the better portion of the catch for our own teams, we are not engaging in a mission,” Tagle said.
“Divisiveness and destructive competition will only help sink the boat. Let us look to the one Shepherd who gathers his sheep instead of scattering them.”
Cardinal Rosales told Church-run Radio Veritas his successor’s installation was a “historic milestone.”
“We really rejoice with his installation as new archbishop of Manila. We are also grateful to the Holy Father for giving Manila the best of our own,” said Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Philippines.
“Manila is the grandmother of the other dioceses. We are one big family,” Palma added.
Batangas Archbishop Ramon Arguelles struck a different note, saying Malacañang should have reset the Camp Aguinaldo ceremonies so that Mr. Aquino could attend Tagle’s installation.
“The installation of the archbishop of the prime archdiocese in the country is so important. It’s a national, an international event. The absence of the President for the very first time in the history of the Philippines was very conspicuous,” Arguelles said in an interview.
“He snubbed the most important religious group in the country … We are the third largest Catholic country in the world and … this is probably the prime archdiocese of Asia,” he said. “So, to snub that is really a big hurt.”
During his last day as bishop of Imus, Tagle said in his homily during Mass: “This does not mean goodbye. I can always come back here anytime.”
He said his heart remained in Imus. “I was baptized here. I had my confirmation here. I was ordained priest here. I was proclaimed bishop here,” he said.
Before the Mass ended, the parish priest, Fr. Allan Valero, asked the faithful to raise their right hands and point to the direction of Tagle at the altar. Then they burst with a thunderous applause. With reports from Santiago R. Alcantara and Reuters