The Covid-19 pandemic can draw out “a social type of love” as people come together to cope with the consequences of the spread of the coronavirus, according to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
But the president of Caritas Internationalis also warned that there is a danger that people will focus on their own personal concerns faced with the difficulties of the pandemic.
“This pandemic affects all and while it is legitimate to think of one’s security and the safety of family members, we hope it will challenge all of us to contribute to the solution or at least the slowing down of this. That means a social type of love. We hope it can help us to a better humanity and a better human family,” he said.
Yet there was also a danger, Cardinal Tagle said, because “human beings try to secure themselves when there is a threat and they do the same for their families and close friend. “The threat of individuallism is always there.”
The Church’s role during the pandemic, he said, is to stand alongside the most vulnerable and help build their resilience. Caritas Internationalis, the confederation of 162 Caritas organisations around the world, works at the grassroots with the most vulnerable, regardless of religion. During the pandemic it has been providing people with masks, disinfectant, food and knowledge about the virus. It has been taking advice from experts on the disease to guide its work.
“We have been asked to expand our social services at this time, especially accompanying the most vulnerable,” said Cardinal Tagle. “We are focused on equipping communities to be resilient.”
Cardinal Tagle was speaking to The Tablet on the eve of an online dialogue he is taking part in tonight with the Westminster Abbey Institute on wisdom in which he is due to speak about how religion nurtures wisdom.
As president of the Catholic Biblical Federation, Cardinal Tagle said that he finds wisdom in Scripture but he said the world also needs witnesses to wisdom, not just words, and that humility is an essential part of wisdom.
“Part of wisdom is to accept that we have erred and been deficient. Wisdom is to repent and to resolve to take the path that is more in keeping with the Gospel”, he said. He acknowledged that the Church needs to listen more to people such those survivors of child sexual abuse, the divorced and remarried, and gay people, all who have felt abandoned by the Church.
“Our love for them should be based on their dignity,” he said.
But he also urged that the Church should stand in solidarity with refugees and forced migrants. During visits to refugee camps, he had listened to stories of people who had fled war and poverty but when they flee, he said, “they find closed doors”.
And he urged people to be more concerned about the plight of refugees, especially children living in camps who are at risk of becoming victims of slavery.
“Unless society works together, this forced migration will become one of the biggest businesses in the world,” he warned.
Cardinal Tagle, who was born in the Philippines, was Archbishop of Manila from 2011 to 2019 and as well as being president of Caritas Internationalis is also prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. He told The Tablet that he has seen a resurgence of engagement with the Christian faith in Africa and Asia and that lessons could be learned from them. He cited as an example the way in which people in countries such as Taiwan and Japan wore masks even before the Covid 19 pandemic. “It is embedded in their culture that they should protect themselves and others. There is a regard for safety and for the common good in these countries.”
He continued: “They have strict rules on travel and sophisticated systems so they can trace the virus straight away. People say it is a restriction on freedom but it is for the common good.”
Cardinal Tagle tested positive for the coronavirus in September when he travelled from Rome to the Philippines. He is now having to quarantine in Rome again after being in contact with someone with the virus after attending an ordination ceremony.
How does religion nurture wisdom? Cardinal Tagle in conversation with The Ven Elizabeth Adekunle, part of the Westminster Abbey Institute on wisdom in public life, is to be held live on Tuesday November 3 at 6.30-7.45pm via You Tube. To register for the free live stream please contact Aneta Horniak via the institute or call 020 7654 4911. A recording will also be available after the event.