Tagle on Charlie Hebdo: Respect both diversity and life
MANILA, Philippines – Where do leaders of Asia’s so-called bastion of Christianity stand in the heated debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo terror attack?
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said that any response to mockery of religion must not “disregard human dignity.”
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines, Tagle urged people of various faiths to respect both diversity and human life.
“I think there were two angles here. Let us all try to be as respectful as we can to people who differ from us. But when people differ from us, we cannot use that diversity or difference as an excuse to be disrespectful also to the point of desecrating human life,” Tagle said on Wednesday, January 14.
The cardinal's statement was similar to that of Pope Francis, who said "there are limits to free speech" in a press conference aboard the papal flight to Manila.
Tagle was responding to the January 7 terror attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris, where gunmen shot 12 people dead. The tragedy was widely seen as a targeted attack on the magazine’s editor and cartoonists for cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the rampage. The attack sparked global condemnation, and a thorny debate on terrorism, freedom of expression, and respect for religion.
Amanpour asked Tagle whether he would tolerate the “mockery” or “offense” by the satirical magazine.
“This type of mourning goes beyond religious, cultural, economic, educational, social, cultural barriers. I and the Filipino people are in communion with those who are suffering. We want to tell the world that even if we have differences, we should not allow differences of all sorts to lead us to a disregard of human dignity,” he said.
Tagle then discussed the attack in the context of the visit of Pope Francis to the predominantly Catholic Philippines from January 15 to 19. Eighty percent of the 100 million population are Catholic, while 11% are Muslim.
Citing the history of threats against papal visits, security experts say the Pope is a likely target of assassination by terrorists and local extremists who pledged allegiance to groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The cardinal said that Muslim Filipinos join the Philippine government and Catholics in wishing for a “meaningful and safe” papal visit.
“We also do not want to jump to the conclusion that these acts are always associated with the religion called Islam,” Tagle said.
“Here in the Philippines, we have many friends of the Islamic religion and they are the first ones to say, ‘Acts of terror are not part of our religion.’ And I believe them. We have a lot of peace-loving people and they cry also when their religion is in a way misused," he added.
On the eve of the Pope's visit, some Muslims in Marawi held a protest against Charlie Hebdo, saying, "You mock our prophet, now you want an apology?"
‘Beyond law, heal prejudices in Mindanao’
The Philippines also grapples with difficulties in promoting religious diversity, a key theme of Pope Francis’ papacy.
Tagle said the task goes beyond passing the Aquino administration-backed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which aims to create a political entity with greater powers and wealth than the current autonomous region. Congress is expected to pass the law in March.
The passage of the law is part of the government’s historic agreement with the former rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in 2014.
“While this law is a great, great step forward, we also have to do something on the grassroots level. Signing a law is one thing, but healing prejudices, healing biases among ordinary people, this is where everyone should work,” Tagle said.
“This is where we need a concerted effort. We have been establishing good relationships between groups so we can further peace on the grassroots level,” he added.
After the passage of the law, a transition body will be created to prepare the region for the first election of Bangsamoro leaders in 2016.
The peace process aims to end the decades-long conflict in Mindanao, southern Philippines.
‘Pope mindful of contemporary world’
Tagle said the Pope’s visit to the Philippines will not just be meaningful for Filipinos but to Francis as well.
A focal point of the Pope’s visit is his trip to disaster-prone Leyte, which is still struggling to recover from Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), one of the most powerful storms to hit land in November 2013.
Incidentally, the Pope’s visit comes as a new storm, locally known as Amang (international name Mekkhala), threatens to bring heavy rain to the central Philippine region.
“The people are just scarred, just even tired and weary. But, you know, we are a people that continues hoping. The coming of the Pope will intensify that. Ms Amanpour, I also hope that the Holy Father, seeing the joy, the resilience, the hopefulness of our simple, poor, suffering people, I hope he will also be inspired.”
While the Pope enjoys a warm welcome to the Philippines, Amanpour pointedly asked Tagle about opposition Francis faces from conservative American cardinals who question his stance on issues like homosexuality and marriage.
The Pope has adopted a more open, inclusive tone on these matters, famously saying, “Who am I to judge?”
Tagle said he fully backs the Pope in pushing for reforms in the Church.
“I am of the opinion that the Holy Father has the backing of the cardinals. If there are some differences in opinions, I think the Holy Father made it clear. He said, ‘Let us not be afraid of diversity.’ He even said, ‘Feel free to express your opinions even those that do not agree with mine.’”
Quoting Francis, the Cardinal said the Pope is also “the son of the Church.”
“So he is not there to create his own doctrines just for the sake of being original, no. He will defend the tradition, but as a pastor mindful of the changes that have happened in the contemporary world, the changes in culture, it is a pastoral imperative that we see how we can be more effective evangelizers in a changing world.” – Rappler.com