It was a great honour for the participants of the ICMA Ahoy course to welcome H.E. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and President of Caritas International, to speak about the importance of ecumenism in the work of seafarers’ welfare. The speech was a high point in a week full of insight about the joys and challenges of Filipino seafarers worldwide. After Pope Francis, Cardinal Tagle might be one of the most recognizable and admired Catholic leaders alive today: no doubt, it is with immense pride that Filipino Catholics claim him as their own. Hence, dressed in a simple barong and wooden cross, speaking as a Filipino, and one with a deep knowledge of the plight migrant and refugees around the world, he was well-placed to encourage work among Filipino seafarers.
From his opening words to the closing, the audience was engrossed and inspired. The opening line lit a fire in our minds and brought home the reason for which we were gathered together: “Jesus prayed for unity. ICMA is already an answer to Jesus’ prayer in the maritime world.”
He situated his remarks by exploring the connection between movement and vulnerability in our world. All of life is on the move, he said, and being on the move creates an occasion for vulnerability. But living in vulnerability is not in itself an evil: God himself chose to become a creature and acts in that space of vulnerability. His mercy, love, and caring are found among the alien, foreigner, widow, and orphan. The Church is called to be in that space of vulnerability as well. The sad reality, however, is that that space should be filled by compassion and mercy, but is all too often one of manipulation and exploitation. The unhappy truth is that those who are most vulnerable in this life on the move, too often invite exploitation, not compassion. The Gospel calls us to fill that space of vulnerability with hospitality, not hostility. This calling is not just for some Christians, but all should be encouraged by a true ecumenical spirit in all Christians to uplift and heal people that are on the move.
Cardinal Tagle remarked that his experience of care for the vulnerable led to four practical suggestions for ecumenical work among seafarers:
First, that we can continually recognize what we have in common: we have a common humanity; we are all created by God. Problems for the vulnerable begin when they become less than human, a commodity to be bought and sold.
Second, we can affirm common Christian treasurers. Guided by the Holy Spirit, these gifts are our common resource for handling our real diversity. Though we continue to have differences of opinion on church and sacraments—and should discuss them!—we can nonetheless share treasurers together.
Third, ecumenism involves a common change of heart: we need to get rid of biases, need to listen to others with humility. Dialogue with others is not just listening to the facts of the other’s beliefs, but trying to learn from them with appreciation. Above all we need to avoid the kind of proselytism that offers aid to the vulnerable on condition that they join our cause.
Finally, Cardinal Tagle noted that we can join together in practical ecumenism: we can work together to restore the dignity of those who have had their humanity stolen from them. In working with Filipinos and all Overseas Foreign Workers, he had one suggestion: encourage forms of recovering lost humanity through joy and music.
The speech by Cardinal Tagle was tied together with stories of joy and humanity: his unmistakable love for migrants, refugees, and all those on the move made his message compelling. He seemed to enjoy genuinely learning about the work of ICMA and also stayed for lots of selfies with the participants!