VATICAN CITY (RNS) — A cardinal from the Philippines who was recently appointed by Pope Francis to head the Vatican department for evangelization, kicked off his new position by attending a book presentation at the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital on Friday (Feb. 14).
“I’ve just arrived here in Rome and I’m sleepy!” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told reporters during a press conference.
Tagle, affectionately called “Chito” by the faithful in his diocese and beyond, was appointed last December to the high-ranking position of Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (also known as Propaganda Fide).
The department is charged with spreading the Gospel throughout the world.
This position is so important within the Vatican that previous prefects have been referred to as “The Red Pope,” due to the influence this role represents and it being traditionally occupied by scarlet-clad cardinals.
The Filipino cardinal succeeds the Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni, 73, who now heads the Order of the Holy Sepulcher.
Tagle said the book presentation was a perfect jumping off point for his new role. The event was a showcase for “Pope Francis Says … ,” a new children's book of some of the pontiff’s most simple and iconic phrases alongside illustrations by Sheree Boyd, who has also worked with The New York Times and American Baby Magazine.
“Life has become so complicated! Worse, human relationships have become so complicated!” Tagle said during his first public appearance since he arrived in Rome. “And my heart screams for this simplicity, seen on a book illustrated with images of bright and luminous colors.”
Francis visited the Philippines in January of 2016 where he earned the nickname Lolo Kiko, meaning Grandpa Francis. His improvised visit to street children on his second day made headlines, with pictures showing the pontiff embraced by the impoverished and homeless children of Manila alongside Tagle.
“I thank especially Cardinal Tagle, who from his beloved Manila and the people who so dearly love him, obeyed the pope and came to Rome,” said Mariella Enoc, the lay woman who heads Bambino Gesu, the historic Catholic hospital for children in the city of Rome.
Enoc noted that Tagle came to Rome to lead “a ministry that is complicated and difficult.”
The Filipino cardinal has already been in charge of sprawling and influential organizations, such as the Catholic charity Caritas Internationalis. But the Vatican represents a new challenge for Tagle, who will now be faced with the internal bureaucracy and struggles of the Catholic institution.
The cardinal, who was made a bishop by now Saint John Paul II and a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, often has been viewed as “papabile” by Vatican observers, meaning that he might have a chance of being elected pope at the next conclave of cardinals electing the pontiff.
Francis’ choice to bring him to the Vatican has also been interpreted as an endorsement of sorts.
Father Antonio Spadaro, the director of the Jesuit-run magazine La Civilta’ Cattolica and close papal ally, thanked the cardinal for being at the event.
"I think it’s a strong symbol, which says a lot, and, I would add, a very positive sign about what matters and what comes first,” Spadaro said.
Before attending the conference, Tagle presented himself at his new office carrying with him a simple black briefcase.
“I am the prefect, but I’m not the prefect,” Tagle told his new colleagues on Friday, apologizing for his self-taught Italian. “I am here as a student to learn from all of you, my guides and teachers. I bring to you the affection of Asia and especially the Philippines and Manila.”