DUBLIN – It would have been hard to guess that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, was seriously jetlagged when he walked into the jam-packed auditorium at the World Meeting of Families taking place in Dublin.
With a bright smile and a spring in his step, Tagle walked up to the podium amongst loud cheers and clapping to bring together Pope Francis’s documents on the care of creation (Laudato Si’) and family and relationships (Amoris Laetitia) in the context of a society that for the large part considers the human person to be a commodity and obsolete.
“The throwaway attitude moved from the economy to culture. It has influenced mindsets, values, priorities and ways at looking at creation and at human beings,” he said during his speech Aug. 22.
Tagle explained that the concept often used by Francis of a throwaway culture has deep roots in history and the economic mindset. After the Great Depression started in 1929, the cardinal said that designers – especially in the automobile sector – began to adopt the concept of “obsolescence,” where products were programmed to breakdown prematurely, either because they were outmoded by technology or considered out of fashion.
“Obsolescence has become culturally accepted by consumers,” he said, and “encouraged people to buy and buy by making them feel that what they have is already obsolete.”
“Are you not disturbed?” he asked the audience.
The cardinal pointed out that many today never knew a world where obsolescence did not exist and that throwing away someone or something that is no longer useful is viewed as “something beautiful” and it has permeated the entire society with many not even recognizing it.
“If the throwaway culture has penetrated our lives we may not even realize that even in front of your spouse you might be thinking: ‘When will she be obsolete?’” he said.
Tagle joked that the issue is so endemic that on marriage certificates there should be a note stating “best by.”
But jokes aside, the cardinal said that this underlying behavior in society has “serious consequences.”
In terms of the environment, as shown in Laudato Si’, it wasn’t until the ’80s and ’90s that the consequences of a throwaway society were fully felt and understood in the world. The Vatican has attempted to address this issue by reviewing the business model on which it was built.
“We should not choose between the environment and human beings, we need to take care of both by reviewing our mentality and culture,” he said, adding that among the victims of a throwaway culture are “human lives, human persons, beginning with the family.”
“Many people talk about Amoris Laetitia as an exhortation on the family. That is not wrong, but it’s incomplete,” Tagle continued, “it’s about love – love in the family.”
In order to move beyond a culture where human beings can be discarded at will, Tagle said that it’s necessary to return to the roots of Christian culture, which is the human person and its relationships.
“We should get out of the trap of individualism, which will lead us to throw away anything or anyone that is not connected with us,” the cardinal said. “We are connected persons, to God, to one another, to society, to the whole of creation.”
As an example of the value placed on human beings, Tagle said that when he was a deacon no altar boys or choir would follow him when he assisted at Mass at parishes on the outskirts of town. That changed once he became a priest, but he said that was because many were hoping to enjoy the beverages and snacks that would undoubtedly be offered.
Once he became a bishop, his “marketability really increased,” Tagle joked, adding that after the announcement everyone in the city claimed to be related to him. As a cardinal the reverence grew even further, he said, with many asking for autographs or selfies with him.
“The face has not changed, but my market value has gone up!” he quipped.
Tagle referenced the many people who instead are treated without dignity or respect and left on the outskirts of society based on their usefulness and status. In his writings, Francis identified those people who would be considered disposable, the cardinal said, including and not limited to unborn children, the elderly, people with disabilities, prisoners, victims of human trafficking, migrants and refugees, minorities and the list goes on.
Drawing on the pope’s call for “spiritual and personal conversion” by delving into “the roots of our spirituality and the witness of the families,” Tagle called participants at this year’s summit on family life to take to heart the ideas enclosed in Francis’s documents and reject a culture where people can be simply thrown away.
“Now we understand what Pope Francis is talking about: if there is something that should be thrown away it’s the throwaway culture,” he said.