ANAHEIM, California – As Bishop Oscar Solis celebrated a Filipino mass at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim California, one name was in the prayers of some two thousand Filipinos that attended: Cardinal Luis Tagle.
Tagle is the Archbishop of Manila whom some media outlets consider a strong candidate to replace outgoing Pope Benedict XVI.
“I know you're expecting Cardinal Tagle to be the main celebrant tonight. I'm sorry to disappoint you. I hope to make up for the absence of Cardinal Tagle tonight. He usually gives 20 minutes homily. So I'm going to make it 40,” Bishop Solis said.
The Los Angeles Auxillary Bishop added, “We all pray for all the cardinal electors and we pray that the cardinals be guided by the Holy Spirit to choose the right Shepherd for our time and our church.”
Cardinal Luis Tagle was supposed to participate at the 3-day-long Religious Education Congress by hosting some workshops and celebrating the Filipino mass.
However, he had to cancel due to a request from Rome, fueling speculation that Asia's top bet to be pope may be in store for something big.
“I wish I know exactly what’s going on with him. But as you know we're all praying for him. He's a cardinal and therefore he's one of those cardinals who needs to go to Rome and be part of a sacred election process to have a new pope,” said Father Albert Avenido of the Filipino Ministry of LA.
Filipinos believe Tagle can become a fresh face for the Catholic Church, addressing key issues.
“It's long overdue that we get somebody other than a westerner to represent the 2-point-whatever billion Catholics. So it will be a great honor for the Filipinos to get a Filipino pope,” said Bella Arnaldo of Milpitas, California.
“We hope to resolve the issues about sexual abuse and abortion which is a big problem,” said Tracy, California resident, Linda Belayo.
Nilda Balano of San Jose, California meanwhile said, “We're hoping he'll be voted. It would be a good chance for him to resolve all the problems that we're having right now”.
Tagle will be joined in Rome by a controversial Cardinal, former Los Angeles archbishop Roger Mahoney, whom critics believe should not participate in the conclave.
Mahoney was stripped of his public duties after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles released documents showing he allegedly covered up sexual abuse scandals. He went through a deposition on Saturday before departing for Rome.
Solis, the highest ranking Filipino Catholic in the US believes Mahoney, his former boss, should have the right to vote as a cardinal who remains in good standing.
Solis asks that Filipinos continue their strong faith, as the archdiocese deals with the ongoing release of clergy abuse files.
“These sexual abuse cases had been going on for almost 15 years, 10 years and the church remains strong because we know that no matter what, God still works with us and among us and with God's help and God's graces, our faith will be strengthened in the midst of such controversies,” said Solis.
Solis adds that he wasn't surprised that the Pope had stepped down due to poor health and is proud that his fellow countryman Tagle, the 7th Filipino cardinal, has been viewed by media as a possible candidate.
It is still unknown what the 55 year-old Tagle's involvement is in the conclave, but him going to Rome is already a rare accomplishment for a Filipino.
In 2005, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal became the only Filipino to vote for pope.
The Filipino faithful is still fresh off the celebration of the second Filipino saint, Pedro Calungsod, and now with Cardinal Tagle believed to be involved in the search for a new Pope Filipino Catholics say they've never had more pride in their country and religion.