Cardinal Tagle and “Superstar”

By : N.J. Viehland

“Looking forward to The Word Exposed Easter recollection with Cardinal Tagle this Sunday. 8am-12nn at Araneta @JesComPH.” This is what tv news anchor and correspondent Bernadette Sembrano tweeted on Friday.

It’s perfectly understandable, Bernadette. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle isn’t called “superstar” for nothing.

Long before Manila’s archbishop, Cardinal Tagle, drew raves as “possible next pope” in past months, he had already built a reputation as “speaker who will reach deep in your mind and heart”, and a broad following among retreat groups and congresses in the Philippines and other countries. No one I’ve spoken to after his talks has come out unmoved.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle explains to Catholics from around Manila and surrounding dioceses the theology and spirit behind the Year of Faith and what New Evangelization requires of all Church members during a seminar at Manila Archdiocese's Layforce center in San Carlos Seminary compound last Nov. 2012. [N.J. Viehland Photo]

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle explains to Catholics from around Manila and surrounding dioceses the theology and spirit behind the Year of Faith and what New Evangelization requires of all Church members during a seminar at Manila Archdiocese’s Layforce center in San Carlos Seminary compound last Nov. 2012. [N.J. Viehland Photo]

He is a charismatic speaker, many agree. More than that, I believe he is effective, even infectious, because he keeps his focus steadily on the true “superstar”, Jesus Christ, and fully commits to making Christ’s story relevant to the audience and to life. “Cardinal (Tagle) makes the most out of each interaction with people, no matter the length of time,” one catechist at last November’s Layforce seminar on the Year of Faith told me.

Cardinal Tagle marvels at the power of media, particularly, the Internet, and acknowledges the opportunity it presents to tell people about Jesus, and what he teaches us.

He asked us during his talk at the First Catholic Social Media Summit in Marikina City last July, “How many people can I reach with my homilies in church?” He recalled the story of an overseas worker who came up to him at the airport to tell him he likes to watch his The Word Exposed videos on YouTube especially because he cannot go to the few Masses held in Saudi Arabia where he works.

Weekly, Cardinal Tagle preaches on TV through The Word Exposed, whose producers organized tomorrow’s recollection. In front of the camera, the theologian bishop shares his reflections and insights on the First Reading, Second Reading and the Gospel for that Sunday.

The program, which uses illustrations, video clips, music and other media, is posted on YouTube after the TV show has been aired. It aims “to bring the Gospel closer to the lives of the audience,” explained New Media Manager Mari Bianca Orenciana.

Cardinal Tagle’s The Word Exposed is right at the “top of the list” of “success stories” of Jesuit Communications Foundation (JesCom) that produces the program, foundation director, Father Emmanuel “Nono” Alfonso, says.

“It is our answer to the need of Philippine media and society today for sound theology,” the Jesuit priest said in our interview last August.

Cardinal Tagle, a leading theologian in Asia has also served as consultant to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. He heads the Office of Theological Concerns of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, an association of bishops’ conferences in East, Southeast, Central and South Asia.

The Word Exposed episode : Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (bishop here) explains Church concerns about the Reproductive Health Bill with Jesuit Father Emmanuel "Nono" Alfonso, currently Director of Jesuit Communications Foundation, that produces The Word Exposed. (screen shot courtesy of JesCom)

The Word Exposed episode : Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (bishop here) explains Church concerns about the Reproductive Health Bill with Jesuit Father Emmanuel “Nono” Alfonso, currently Director of Jesuit Communications Foundation, that produces The Word Exposed. (screen shot courtesy of JesCom)

In its August 12, 2012 episode in which Cardinal Tagle preached on the Sunday Gospel, YouTube user “elmsvd” commented, “I’m a priest here in New Zealand, and I have used the reflections as guide for my homilies.”

However, it took a winding path for the program to firm up and grow popular. Father Alfonso recalled that while still bishop of Imus, Cavite, Cardinal Tagle taught at Jesuit-owned Loyola School of Theology on the same campus where JesCom is based. JesCom got him for two-minute television prayer segments and, feeling it wasn’t enough, the organization experimented on an hour-long program called Light Talk  in 2008. The taped show featured the bishop talking about a subject with expert guests.

“Viewers commented and I, too, felt dissatisfied not to hear enough of the bishop, so we changed the format, and the rest is history,” Father Alfonso said.

Tony Boy Cojuangco when he owned the secular station TV5 approached JesCom to produce programs for the first three hours of broadcast on Saturday and Sunday morning. Light Talk was developed, but as the TV station changed management the show was cancelled.

“It was timely to experiment on another format, The Word Exposed, but we had no money, so we just appealed and people started giving,” Father Alfonso said.

“Very honestly, Archbishop Chito (Cardinal Tagle), in front of the camera, said that if you like our reflections you can help us continue this show if you can donate,” the JesCom director narrated.

Catechists, teachers, youth ministry, liturgical ministry and other workers for a "Church of the Poor" in Manila and neighboring dioceses listened to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle's presentation about the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization at Layforce center in Manila archdiocese's San Carlos seminary last Nov. 2012. [N.J. Viehland photo]

Catechists, teachers, youth ministry, liturgical ministry and other workers for a “Church of the Poor” in Manila and neighboring dioceses listened to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s presentation about the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization at Layforce center in Manila archdiocese’s San Carlos seminary last Nov. 2012. [N.J. Viehland photo]

Today, the show thrives in what the audience gives. “Individuals, rich and poor, Filipinos and non-Filipinos here and abroad,” pitch in what money they can give, Father Alfonso said. “There’s no funding agency, no corporations buying commercial spots. It’s really just the audience and some donations from organizations,” he added.

He said JesCom’s websitehas online donation features  , “but people also hand over bills to Jesuit priests after Mass in their parishes, even just 100 pesos (US$2.43), and tell them to please give the money to bishop (Tagle).”

The JesCom head attributes “overwhelming response” locally, from Australia, the US and other countries to people’s perception of Cardinal Tagle as a credible theologian, Church leader and a person of integrity. 

Even prominent personalities, such as Washington Sycip, founder of Sycip, Gorres, Velayo and Co., the Philippines largest multi-professional services firm were moved to send in what an SGV official told me was a “personal donation.” In sending his one-time donation, he wrote how hopeful he was that then Bishop Tagle would lead the Church to improve, Father Alfonso said.

He shared that Knights of Columbus had committed to a regular monthly donation of around 50,000 pesos. “We would like that, for donors to give regularly,” Father Alfonso said.

He estimates, “It costs at least 40,000 pesos to produce a show, and the biggest expense is for the crew.” He said Cardinal Tagle is given only “a small token.”

JesCom also produces other programs and multi-media materials for evangelization and education, and trains people in communication at The Garage creative technologies center.

The Easter recollection its The Word Exposed group organized can expect to gather another large and colorful crowd, including Bernadette, to come and listen to their brilliant, charming, funny cardinal from 8 a.m. to noon at the concert, circus, and basketball landmark: Smart Araneta Coliseum, in Cubao, Quezon City.

Hopefully, if candidates for the May 13 general elections join, it will be to worship God and reflect on leadership as caring and serving their people like the Good Shepherd does, and not to campaign for themselves.

END

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