Profiles, Stories

How Cardinal Tagle’s Chinese roots shaped him to become the man he is today

Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle is the Philippines’ youngest cardinal and is known to be the friendliest. Many people describe him as modest, pious, and always ready to laugh. His listeners anxiously await his words. He has a talent for holding their attention with his message, helping people experience God’s love and grace through his words.

Cardinal Tagle was appointed Archbishop of Manila in 2001 and became cardinal in 2012 at the age of 55. In 2019, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Tagle as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Vatican’s primary missionary department, which is still better known in the Catholic world by its old Latin name, “Propaganda Fidei.” 

His Chinese roots

For those who don’t know—yes, Cardinal Tagle is Chinoy! Cardinal Tagle stated during a Vatican news conference in 2015 that touring refugee camps in Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, and Bangladesh reminded him of his ancestors. He was overcome with emotion as he recalled his grandfather’s childhood relocation from China to the Philippines. He said, “In them, I saw my grandfather who was born in China, but was forced to leave his homeland as a young boy with his uncle for the Philippines in search of a better future.”

In 2017, Cardinal Tagle was questioned about his Chinese heritage. He said, “I think some Chinese characteristics have passed onto me, even though my grandfather spent most of his life in the Philippines.” He even mentioned remembering some customs he observed, such as honoring his mother by offering her food, placing it in front of her photos along with a few pieces of incense, or lighting fireworks to greet the New Year. Cardinal Tagle added that his grandfather instilled in him respect for the elderly and family loyalty, living modestly, the value of education, and the importance of doing work in an ethical manner. 

When Cardinal Tagle was nine years old, his grandfather often urged him to study Chinese, and he began taking individual classes in both Mandarin and the local Filipino tongue. He stated he was advanced in his studies for a period, but finally stopped coming to his instructor and now “regrets” not pushing on.

His heritage is seen as an asset

Cardinal Tagle’s Filipino-Chinese heritage is considered to be beneficial as the Church expands throughout Asia. His intimate relationships with the People’s Republic of China prove advantageous, as threats to the Holy See’s relations with China persist.

This is because Cardinal Tagle is viewed as a political moderate and a man of dialogue, which suggests that he would adopt a more dovish approach to Chinese ties. According to Paolo Affatato, head of Fides News’ Asia department, Cardinal Tagle may aid with the facilitation and could give “more open doors.”

Similarly, Father Bernardo Cervellera, the head of Asia News and a lifelong specialist on Chinese issues, believes Cardinal Tagle may assist progress ties with China not so much because of Chinese ancestry, but because of his knowledge and approach.

Leave a Reply