As Filipinos around the world expressed regret, gratitude and sympathy after Pope Benedict XVI announced plans to resign this week, one question remained top of their minds.
Is it time for a Filipino to become the pope?
The Philippines is regarded as Asia’s bastion of Catholicism. About 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of three centuries of Spanish colonialism that ended in the late 1800s.
The church still wields great influence in the Philippines, where divorce and abortion are illegal.
“It was a sad day in our house,” said Elvira Gomez, a Fil-Canadian in Vancouver.
“He was a great man who leaves behind a great legacy,” said the mother of two.
Gomez like many others said its time the Vatican looks at some of the world’s biggest Catholic congregations outside Europe for a successor.
The 85-year-old pope announced he would resign Feb 28 because of health reasons becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The announcement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for world’s 1 billion Catholics.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner -- the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican’s office for bishops.
But there are already arguments for a pope to come from the developing world.
Topping the list is Cardinal Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, who has impressed many Vatican watchers. But at 56 and having only been named a cardinal last year, he may be considered too young.
Tagle, Facebook-savvy and known for his simplicity and humility, is the Philippines’ seventh cardinal and has been touted as a papal contender.
With his appointment last year, the Philippines has an active cardinal when Vatican convenes a conclave or the closed room gathering specially set aside for cardinals when electing a pope.
Having reached the 80-year-old threshold, the two other living Filipino cardinals are considered as retired and will no longer have a voting power in electing a pope. They are Archbishops Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, 80, of Manila, and Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, 81, of Cebu.
Four other Filipino cardinals have passed away: Rufino Cardinal Santos; Julio Cardinal Rosales; Jaime Cardinal Sin; and Jose Cardinal Sanchez.
In October last year, a report of CathNews quoted CNN Senior Vatican analyst John Allen Jr. as saying the 54-year-old Tagle was not only “a rising star in the Asian Church” but also a “papal contender.”
In his blog on the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) on October 21, Allen said “a striking number of people who know Tagle believe that this is a guy who, one day, could be pope.”
Allen said Tagle was also known for inviting poor beggars outside the cathedral to share a meal with him.
Installed as Archbishop of Manila, Bishop Antonio Luis Tagle, has been tagged as someone who could be the next pope. He is known to go around the communities he serves on a “cheap bike.”
According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Tagle was born in Manila on June 21, 1957.
He was ordained a priest on February 27, 1982 and then as a bishop on December 12, 2001.
Tagle took his philosophy and theology studies at the San Jose Major Seminary based at the Ateneo de Manila University.
He earned his doctorate in sacred theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. in the United States from 1985 to 1992.
The Manila Archbishop is the chairman of the CBCP’s Commission on Doctrine of the Faith.
Tagle has also been a member of the International Theological Commission of the Vatican since 1997.
The Pope was remembered this week as a pontiff who helped the Philippines
“Not only the Catholic world, but all peoples and nations of goodwill are filled with great regret,” one of President Benigno Aquino’s spokesmen, Edwin Lacierda, said in a statement.
“At this time, when the pope has announced the physical challenges he faces makes it difficult to continue bearing the burdens of his office, we join the Catholic world and all whose lives he has touched in prayer and sympathy.”
Lacierda praised the pope for showing humility by resigning, while highlighting the sympathy the pontiff expressed for Filipinos when the country was hit by deadly storms and other disasters.
“We recall, in particular, with fond gratitude, the many prayers and comforting words Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated to Filipinos in times of calamity and challenge,” he said in a statement.
Lacierda also cited the pope’s role in many events that rallied Catholics in the Philippines, such as last year’s canonisation of Pedro Calungsod, who became the second Filipino saint in history.
Aquino recently overcame fierce church opposition to this year push through a birth control law that requires government health centers to give away contraceptives to the poor and for sex education to be taught in schools.