I had the pleasure of interviewing Cardinal Tagle, the president of Caritas Internationalis, by phone from New York last Saturday where he and others from the Caritas network of Catholic charities and development agencies were attending high level UN meetings on climate change and sustainable development.
The plight of the poor, who are most affected by severe climatic events, remains central to the Church’s concerns. “There is no dichotomy between caring for human beings and also caring for creation.”
Asked how Caritas can avoid being coopted by the push for population control, abortion, and same-sex “marriage” that some non-religious advocates of SDGs and climate change agreements also have on their agendas, the “ideological colonization” Pope Francis warned against in his UN speech, Cardinal Tagle said: “I think first we should allow people, especially the poor, to be heard.”
While acknowledging that some assistance packages also push population control and abortion, Cardinal Tagle said people need to be asked “what models of development do they want for themselves.”
“We must not impose on them models of development,” he said. When he visits the poor of the Philippines, they “consider their children as their riches.”
“So this model of development that tells them you will be better off without children, that, for them, is an ideological imposition,” he said. “We should listen to the poor and we will see their vision is quite different from those who are proposing development packages to them.”
“We should organize the grassroots to express their faith, to express their views, to express their dreams, and we for our part to encourage all the visions, and shapers and decision makers in the world to be humble enough to listen to the voice of the people, not to drown them,” he said. “And this is part of social justice that the poor not just beneficiaries or recipients of the benevolence of others.”
“The poor should also be our teachers,” he said, noting he was including indigenous peoples. “They should be given the change to share with us their wisdom, maybe they possess key to true development.”
For Cardinal Tagle, the right relationships among human beings with Creation is clearly connected to the Gospel, and a right relationship to God in Jesus Christ.
He said he has seen many who work for social justice “are so animated and zealous” in trying to alleviate the effects of poverty and injustice, they sometimes “think it is a purely human project that we can achieve by our own planning and our own initiatives.”
“Without destroying or killing the initiative and creativity, I think part of the wisdom of the Christian faith, [is that] before we even had the desire to help the poor, God hears the cry of the poor,” Cardinal Tagle said. “It is God who has the preferential love for the poor.”
“We see this in Scriptures,” he said. “We see this in Jesus. God became poor in Jesus.”
Jesus’ solidarity with the poor makes our involvement “not just something pragmatic, not just something functional, it is faith-based,” he said. “To say I believe in God in the Creator; to say I believe in Jesus Christ who became human; to say I believe in the Holy Spirit who binds us all, these are the foundations of our work for justice and love.”
“That’s why Pope Francis reminds us that social action really is theological,” Cardinal Tagle said. “It is an expression of our belief in the Trinity, in the Incarnate Word and in the Spirit that continues to blow almightily in the earth and in humanity.”
“Hopefully we would be agents of God’s action rather than agents only of human planning and some ideologies,” the cardinal said. “So it is crucial for all of us to return to our faith and to make the faith really the source of our involvement with the poor and with the caring for creation,” he said.