ROME — A Filipino cardinal dubbed the “Asian Francis” for his similarities in outlook and personality to the pontiff has been elected the new global leader for the charitable outreach of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, known as “Chito,” was elected president of Caritas Internationalis on Thursday. Based in Rome, Caritas is a federation of 165 Catholic charitable organizations around the world, including both Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services in the United States.
“I know I’m limited in my faculties,” Tagle said via a phone conversation to the over 300 representatives of Caritas network currently meeting in Rome. “But counting on all of you, and with the love that Jesus puts in our hearts, the love for the poor, I accept this election!”
“I would like to thank all of you for your trust,” he said. “Let us together strengthen the church for the poor, working so that our witness helps build a world of understanding, justice, true freedom, and peace.”
Tagle wasn’t in Rome on Thursday for the organization’s 20th General Assembly because he was in Chicago to receive an honorary doctorate from the Catholic Theological Union.
Rodiguez described the election as a “wonderful gift for Caritas.”
He described Tagle as “a very committed person, especially to the poor, who loves both the Church and Christ.”
Speaking to Crux, Rodriguez offered his successor a bit of advice: “He should follow his heart, and to try to help everybody,” he said.
Rodriguez wasn’t the only one to hail Tagle’s election.
Agnes Hye-Young Shin from Caritas Korea said she was on the edge of her seat during the voting, and had no intention of hiding her preference.
“We’re so happy because [Tagle] is from Asia, an emerging continent that has a lot to give to the Church,” she said.
She told Crux that Tagle’s victory is particularly important because of the experience the prelate has working with the poor from his own country.
With more than 75 million faithful, the Philippines is one of the largest and most dynamic Catholic cultures in the world, but also one of the poorest, with almost 30 percent of the total population living with a yearly income of $400 or less.
The runner-up, Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, Joseph Soueiph, received a standing ovation from his peers.
Speaking with Crux after the election, a delegate from a Middle East country said that even though Tagle is a “great person for the role,” the election would have been tighter if Soueiph had more international visibility.
“He’s a great man, committed to building a Church that is centered in the poor, going to the peripheries before it was ‘fashionable,’” the member said, who who requested to remain unnamed to preserve the secrecy of the voting.
Bishop Juan Bautista Gavilan Velazquez, head of Caritas Paraguay, said both candidates were equally qualified, but regarded Tagle as an “optimistic, young man, with a very expressive faith and capable of directing all of Caritas pastoral actions.”
Gavilan also told Crux that the Church is currently going through a “historic moment,” with a rediscovering of the need to have a more attentive stance towards the poor.
“The fact that the man in charge of leading the pope’s ‘solidarity army’ comes, like Pope Francis, from the peripheries, is a great sign,” Gavilan said.
Tagle will have to coordinate the implementation of Carita’s strategy for the next four years, the key aspects of which were approved during the General Assembly: Building a “poor Church for the poor”; improving the response to unforeseen emergencies; and long-term strategies for emergencies one can anticipate.