Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (CBCP NEWS)

Manila seemed unable to grapple with the prospect of losing one of its most charismatic churchmen to Rome.

On Sunday, Dec. 8, the feast of Immaculate Conception, one of the Catholic Church’s most important solemnities, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had named Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle as the next prefect or head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

It is one of the Holy See’s most historic dicasteries, in charge of missionary activity, according to Vatican protocol expert James-Charles Noonan. Tagle is thus required to step down as Manila archbishop, a post he has held since 2011.

Top media organizations reported: It had yet to be confirmed that Tagle, only the second Asian to become prefect of the “Propaganda Fide,” would have to give up the See of Manila.

But the first Asian to head the sacred congregation, Cardinal Ivan Dias, left the Archdiocese of Bombay when he was named prefect in 2006.

Fr. Gregory Gaston, rector of the pontifical Filipino college in Rome, clarified to the Church-run Radyo Veritas that Tagle had no powers of bilocation.

“Ibig sabihin dito na siya titira ngayon sa Vatican. Sa Rome. Wala naman siyang bilocation. Kaya ipagdasal natin siya sa kaniyang bagong tahanan sa Roma,” Gaston said.

(This means he will live in the Vatican. In Rome. He has no bilocation. That is why we have to pray for him in his new home in Rome.)

Tagle will replace Fernando Filoni, a veteran Vatican diplomat who had served as nuncio to Baghdad and Amman (he opposed the US invasion of Iraq) and the Philippines. Cardinal Filoni was named grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre on Dec. 8.

The Vatican appointment will raise Tagle’s already high profile several notches higher, as Pope Francis, 82, undertakes succession planning by appointing like-minded cardinals to important posts.

The Jesuit pope and Tagle, who went to two Jesuit institutions — San Jose Seminary and Ateneo de Manila — are natural allies. Francis had named Tagle head of the Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s global charitable arm, and one of the presidents of the headline-grabbing 2014 Synod of Bishops on the Family that tackled the divisive issue of communion for divorced faithful.

“Cardinal Tagle’s appointments makes him, in my opinion, a front-line ‘papabile,'” said Carlos Antonio Palad, a columnist for CBCP News.

“The prefect of ‘Propaganda Fide’ has long been informally called the ‘Red Pope’ because his office has jurisdiction over missionary lands, and has a key role in deciding episcopal appointments in those areas,” he said. “As prefect, Cardinal Tagle will be working with hundreds of missionary bishops all over the world, including cardinals in mission areas. It will without doubt give him an extremely high profile in the universal Church on top of his already active role as president of Caritas International.”

In his book “The Church Visible,” Noonan noted that Propaganda Fide has jurisdiction not only over Asia, Africa and Oceania, but also in North America, as Alaska remained mission territory.

“Chito” Tagle is a theologian who was ordained priest in 1982. He became bishop of Imus, Cavite in 2001, consecrated by no less than the late Cardinal Jaime Sin. A fellow theologian, the now Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, named him the 32nd archbishop of Manila in 2011 and made him cardinal the following year.

In Imus, Tagle was known to ride public transportation like the “padyak,” and invite the poor to meals.

He is media-savvy, appearing on TV and Youtube programs produced by Jesuit Communications, and became a sought-after speaker and retreat master.

In Manila, he convened the yearly Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization, and invited celebrities and other prominent personalities to talk about their faith.

Tagle often went emotional, and broke down in tears during Mass at Manila Cathedral on Monday. “We hear the words ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,’” he said.

Palad said Tagle was set to acquire an impressive track record as both a pastor and high official of the Roman Curia.

“Combined with nearly two decades as a diocesan bishop, first in Imus then in Manila, Tagle will have an enviable ‘CV’ so to speak – a mix of diocesan and curial leadership. I am sure, however, that power is farthest from Tagle’s mind, and that he will respond to this appointment as a call, most of all, to greater service,” Palad said. (Felipe F. Salvosa II)