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A teacher for an archbishop

Last night, many people were eager witnesses to the installation of the new Archbishop of Manila, Rev. Chito Tagle. Archbishop Tagle is well loved for his various successful pastoral works and projects as long-time bishop of Imus, Cavite. Outside his diocese, many got to know him for his evangelizing work in media as one of the sharers in Jesuit Communications’ Kape’t Pandasal. His most effective media project is another JesComm production entitled The Word Exposed, where the new Archbishop clearly explains, detail by detail, the Sunday Mass Readings.

In his show, the Archbishop has always been proud of sharing how his experiences as a teacher have helped him become a better Christian. I believe his teaching experience will also serve him well in fulfilling the most important role of his life so far.

But how is Archbishop Tagle as a teacher?

I was never his student. But as a regular viewer, it’s very clear how brilliant the Archbishop is as a teacher. His greatest gift is his ability to synthesize the Mass Readings into one coherent theme. An audience may listen to a well-explained homily but only retains and takes to heart those ideas beautifully sown together by a master speaker. Expect then the new Archbishop not only to explain Church teachings very well, but moreover, to enlighten his flock about how these are intrinsically woven to our growth as individuals and as members of society.  

A leader of a Church, however, is never deemed great only by his ability to explain what the Church believes. Rather, his greatness is measured by his example and demeanor. Like a non-threatening teacher, the Archbishop’s sincerity and gentleness have captured the minds and hearts of his followers. In the legacy of Pope John Paul II, Bishop Tagle will be an image of a smiling Archbishop. His childlike features illuminate his sincerity and openness to be an instrument of God in serving the people. Like teachers, we may not always agree with their opinions but the good ones always succeed in at least making us listen to their perspective. The best ones, like Tagle, have the power to unclench our tightly held biases, not by sheer force or scathing remarks, but with sublime wisdom capable of softening the most hardened of hearts. After all, a hardened and disillusioned people will not rediscover hope through coercion and stubbornness but with openness, tolerance, and understanding.

In his show, Bishop Tagle always ends his exegesis with a personal experience as his way of witnessing that the Word of God is never abstract but always grounded in daily human experiences. Reading about one would enable us to gain an insight on how he will perform his duty as an Archbishop. Bishop Tagle narrates how one time, somebody reported to him that many of his deaf parishioners were living together outside the sacrament of matrimony. Bishop Tagle admitted at first he was frustrated and impressed on his hearing-impaired parishioners the importance of marriage and getting married immediately. To this, one of his deaf parishioners asked through an interpreter, “If we attempt to go to the parish office, will somebody be able to entertain us?”

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Bishop Tagle reflects, “Then it dawned on me how even the Church has left people on the margins. That [realization] started our ministry, and now every Sunday, we have a Mass where the deaf community comes and we have catechists who know sign language. [All this] so that they are not left behind. And what a joy, when I recognize them, it seems for them, the world, especially the Church has become a little safer and secure for them.” Bishop Tagle ended his reflection in sign language and almost on the verge of tears, I applaud you and I thank you.  “Let us not forget them. There are so many people longing for a world that is safe and secure. Advent is for them, and every day is advent for the poor.”

We eagerly look forward to our new shepherd and master teacher, Archbishop Chito Tagle, for we recognize his immense desire for the Church to be a shepherd for the marginalized, longing to embrace everyone into its fold. It certainly is not the best time to be an Archbishop, given the many issues that hound the Church nowadays, but Bishop Tagle himself answers the challenge very well.  

Archbishop Tagle says, “I have realized that this calling is not a test of talent and capacity, but a calling to love. And it is to this call that I give my yes.”

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