Courtesy of St. Thomas More

As the pandemic continues to bring economic hardship, Luis Antonio Gokim Cardinal Tagle honed in on what the Catholic Church has been doing to aid impoverished communities during a talk hosted by Yale’s Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel.

On Nov. 15, STM hosted the cardinal to commemorate the World Day of the Poor. Tagle is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and is in charge of guiding and initiating various Catholic missions around the world. The prefect also plays a central role in the selection of candidates to be bishops in dioceses — Catholic geographical subsections. During the talk over Zoom, Tagle discussed his views on how the pandemic has further divided society and exacerbated inequality, while bringing out the common humanity among the world’s populations.

“The pandemic has become a fertile ground for partisanship rather than common action,” Tagle said. “The pandemic is not a local emergency. It is a general emergency, which hopefully would generate a general response. In some parts it has but the response has not taken into account the common humanity.”

STM Assistant Chaplain Allan Esteron wrote to the News that the Chapel invited Tagle because of the unique perspective he provides on the pandemic.

“Being part of the Roman Curia, Cardinal Tagle occupies a unique vantage point on how the Church is witnessing the effects of COVID-19,” Esteron said. “His perspective is global.”

At the event, Tagle said that in some parts of the world, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities. Especially in the poorest parts of the world, some public health practices are not viable.

“It feels like an insult to tell them — to order them — to wash their hands when they don’t see water,” Tagle said. 

Tagle said that he is “scandalized” at the disparity found in some government budgets because allocations are put into “cars and weapons” instead of poverty alleviation efforts amid the pandemic. He also said that some governments find it difficult to release money for basic necessities such as masks and face shields when “billions of dollars” are spent on defense expenditures.

During the event, STM Chaplain Father Ryan Lerner asked Tagle how he interacts with individuals that are unaware of or “willfully ignore” how the pandemic has induced inequality and polarization. Tagle said that he first ensures that his own position is based on both facts and lived experience or what Pope Francis calls the “culture of encounter.” Patience and humility are required in these situations, he said, as he reminds these individuals that the pandemic is a medical issue and must be based on facts. Tagle asserted the importance of “gently” guiding these individuals to see the “deficiencies” in their position instead of attacking them “frontally.” 

Tagle added that often, more affluent communities yearn for a return to “normal,” but he argued that the normal for impoverished communities is not sufficient. Reflecting on the lack of equality brought to light by the pandemic and envisioning a “better normal” must be at the forefront of communities’ minds, he said.

“If the new normal will just be a repetition of the old normal, then I will be really very much discouraged given that we have not learned,” Tagle said. “Can we as individuals and as communities engage in a very serious, humble, honest and even painful examination of consciousness, our lifestyles, our priorities?”

Catholic organizations such as Caritas International —  a confederation of Catholic relief, development and social service organizations for which Tagle serves as president — have been undeterred by the pandemic and have even increased efforts to help those affected, according to Tagle.

Another topic of discussion at the event was the preservation of hope — a common theme in Tagle’s interpretation of Catholic theology — during the pandemic. Michael Macalintal DIV ’20 asked how hope can be preserved “in the midst of continuous grief” in the upcoming months, as the pandemic is expected to worsen, and death rates are expected to increase. 

Christians must not believe that they are exempt from infection because of their faith, Tagle answered. This realization, he said, must root people in solidarity with one another, not only to find a cure but also to support each other in grief. 

Tagle became emotional when describing a group of letters sent to him by impoverished children while he was infected with the coronavirus this September. The letters were written in the form of prayers and called for God to heal Tagle. 

“God the Father, Cardinal Chito [Tagle] does not belong to a bed for sick persons. He should be walking in the streets. Please heal him,” one child wrote, referring to Tagle’s work with those in poverty.

The children were motivated to write the letters because Tagle endorsed a fundraising event for their scholarships. 

This type of emotional showing was not unusual for Tagle, according to Esteron, who said that sincerity and authentic love for the poor and marginalized are what precisely draw people to Tagele.

Esteron added that he hopes the “virus of hope” concept — how a simple act of kindness can mean so much in this time of crisis — that Tagle introduced will be what the participants take away from the talk. 

Tagle closed his talk by noting that the pandemic is a stark reminder that all human beings are connected.

“This pandemic is really a call to recognize that we inhabit only one home, that we affected one another, that every creature is related to others for better or for worse,” Tagle said. “We human beings have the chance to live by that calling to be related, to be connected to everyone.”

Tagle served as the Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines prior to taking the role as prefect.

Razel Suansing | razel.suansing@yale.edu