Caritas appoints first Asian chief to get 'closer to the people'

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is the new and first Asian president of Caritas Internationalis. Photo by: Sikarin Thanachaiary / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Under the guidance of its recently elected president, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines, there are big changes afoot at Caritas Internationalis.

The Vatican-based charity — a confederation of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations — aims to be “closer to the people” while attempting to “humanize” development.

Against the backdrop of the setting of the sustainable development goals in New York in September and talks on a new global climate agreement in Paris at the tail end of the year, Caritas Secretary General Michel Roy said that the group has the obligation to direct discussions on a path that puts people and communities at the center of development — instead of statistics and data alone.

“The present development model that promotes consumerism and egoism, and throws away those [which] do not contribute to it, has to be challenged and transformed,” he told Devex. “Caritas … are expected to rehumanize this world by bringing back the meaning of life in its fullness at the center.”

While there has been significant progress in development achievements in the past decade with the implementation of the United Nations-led Millennium Development Goals, all too many people around the world remain impoverished and disadvantaged. And while the rise of big data have helped make development more effective and efficient, experts argue that statistics alone do not capture the whole picture of what underdevelopment and poverty in an individual and household level means in practice.

This is something Roy hopes Tagle, a man known for his humility, will be able to speak to in the next four years of his mandate as head of the confederation.

“Above all, it is his personality and his style — very humble and close to the people, especially the poor — that won the members’ hearts. He has been dedicated to the promotion of the poor in all his duties as a priest,” Roy explained. “[He will] represent and lead the confederation … his voice [will be] heard in the international fora.”

Roy added that the Filipino cardinal will more likely continue the work of his predecessor, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, in lending his “voice and leadership to help make a real change in the world so that the poorest and most vulnerable can organize themselves and grow in an enabling environment.”

Tagle, whose election Roy explained as a “bridge between Asia and the Americas”, rose to fame as an approachable and engaging religious leader with appeal far beyond his native Philippines. Indeed, he was considered as one of the favorites for the papacy during the last conclave of cardinals that eventually elected Pope Francis, and remains close to senior Vatican sources.

Roy hopes Tagle will leverage these connections to serve as Caritas’ “guiding light” and, together with other faith-based organizations and other nonsectarian groups, to assist the international development community in realizing the post-2015 development agenda in a more holistic manner

“The U.N. is calling, but also the World Bank. There is some paradox in such a call,” Roy explained. “On one side, the U.N. agenda is promoting values that are considered by the church as antiproductive, because they are pushing individualism instead of family and community dynamics. On the other, they recognize the importance of organized communities, which is our focus.”

Without such communities, Roy concluded that “no real development is possible.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.

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