VANCOUVER—Countless people have seen Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle take the stage at the World Meeting of Families, International Eucharistic Congresses, and various other public events.
Now, as the famed Filipino cardinal prepares to visit Vancouver, those who have seen him speak say he can make a person feel he or she is the only one in the room.
“I remember his passion for the ordinary people,” said Barbara Dowding, vice chancellor for the Archdiocese of Vancouver. She heard him speak at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015 and the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines, in 2016.
“He wasn’t a cardinal far away. He was down to earth. He knew the plight of the ordinary people.”
In Cebu, the crowd was as excited for Cardinal Tagle as they were for Bishop Robert Barron, the then-newly ordained bishop from Los Angeles made famous by his Catholicism video series, Word on Fire ministry, and 1.5 million Facebook likes.
“When Bishop Barron was coming to speak, everybody was abuzz. It was the same for this cardinal,” said Dowding. “When he started, everything was hushed and everyone was glued to the screens. He has a very easy way of engaging you. You forget you’re looking at a screen.”
Though Cardinal Tagle’s presentation stretched long past 1 1/2 hours and his face was a speck in the distance for participants like Dowding, the massive crowd stayed captivated.
“He’s a very good speaker. He could talk for an hour and a half and you wouldn’t even know the time went by. Not many people can get away with that.”
Dowding said the world-travelling cardinal speaks with a particular passion for families and anticipates he’ll do so during his address at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre March 19. “For people here in Vancouver to hear him speak of the global church and the global family would be very interesting.”
Deacon Greg Barcelon, head of the archdiocese’s Filipino ministry, was fortunate enough to interact with Cardinal Tagle several times. He first heard the cardinal speak at the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008, then in Cebu in 2016.
“He’s got this way of making connections with people by telling them stories, something very light, without knowing that he’s leading into something that will have a punch at the end,” he said.
“I distinctly remember one thing he was talking about with respect to culture. For example: how we manage space tells us about our own beliefs and relationship with God. He said: ‘What is the biggest space in your parish compound? What is the biggest space in your church? That will speak of what your emphasis is.’”
Cardinal Tagle then extended the metaphor to personal spaces. “He said, ‘Your living quarters: What is the biggest space? Do you have a single bed or a double bed?’ That was very subtle in terms of many problems with the clergy!”
The cardinal’s charm lessens the blows of his catechetical lessons. “He has a way of coming up with those remarks that will hit you and yet you don’t get offended,” laughed Deacon Barcelon.
The deacon was so impressed with Cardinal Tagle’s presentation on culture, he decided to use some materials in a talk at Immaculate Conception Parish in Delta. He contacted the cardinal’s office to ask for permission and was shocked at the response.
“He sent me his whole text! The whole talk, so many pages, and there were many parts that he didn’t talk about, but were there. He has so much material, yet he delivers it very smoothly. That’s just the way he is.”
Deacon Barcelon found his impressions of Cardinal Tagle as a personable and down-to-earth priest were reality when he met the man in the flesh in 2016.
He had just been ordained a permanent deacon when he offered to personally deliver an invitation from Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, to Cardinal Tagle, to visit Vancouver. Invitations have been extended several times over the years, but the cardinal has always been too busy to come.
Archbishop Miller penned the invitation and Deacon Barcelon flew to the Philippines (his country of origin) looking for the cardinal’s office. He phoned the office and a nun answered, saying the cardinal’s secretary was not in, but Deacon Barcelon was welcome to send an email.
So, he emailed the secretary saying he wanted to personally deliver a message to Cardinal Tagle from the Archbishop of Vancouver. A few days later, Deacon Barcelon and his wife found themselves with a Sunday 7:30 a.m. meeting with Cardinal Tagle.
“The first time we met him, he was doing everything to stay away from business,” said Deacon Barcelon, amazed the cardinal went out of his way to accommodate visitors on a Sunday morning. “He was very natural and so easy to talk to. There was none of the usual protocol with high level officials.”
Cardinal Tagle asked Deacon Barcelon about his travels, where he was from, and during the conversation they discovered they are distantly related: the cardinal’s uncle married one of the deacon’s cousins.
“We were supposed to see him for 20 or 30 minutes that morning. We stayed for more than one hour with him and he just entertained us and talked to us.”
According to Filipino custom, Deacon Barcelon kissed Cardinal Tagle’s hand to show respect.
“You always kiss the hand of someone who is of a higher position or someone who is older than you. You’re asking for the hand to ask for a blessing, and as you kiss it, they are supposed to say God bless you. That’s the culture,” he explained.
“I kissed his hand, and then he returned, kissing my hand. He does that! He’s so natural. I’m sure he knows I’m older than he is.”
The cardinal has finally accepted the invitation to speak in Vancouver, making a stop over here on his way from the Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles to the Philippines. His visit is highly anticipated, especially among local Filipino Catholics.
“He’s got a nickname: ‘Chito.’ To the Filipinos, he’s ‘Cardinal Chito.’ They are so familiar with him and excited he will be here.”
He hopes those who hear Cardinal Tagle speak March 19 will be inspired, not only by his “charm” and speaking skills, but by his message.
“When I see him as somebody who is able to navigate the international scene, I get the confidence to also believe I have a role to play to proclaim the good news anywhere I go,” said Deacon Barcelon.
“It’s not just an important talk to listen to. It is a messenger from God who is coming to tell us something. It’s very timely that it’s Lent; it’s a holy, spiritually rich season.”