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Confronting the ‘throw-away culture’

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle delivers his presentation with the assistance of a sign interpreter.

The triennial World Meeting of Families (WMOF) was held in Dublin, Ireland from August 21 to 26. The venue for the Pastoral Congress was the Royal Dublin Society. For three days, August 22–24, presentations were made by speakers from around the world. Editor Raymond Syms, who attended the WMOF with his wife Tricia as part of the five-member contingent representing the Antilles Episcopal Conference, reports on some of the talks.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, the Philippines began to choke up as he pointed to and spoke about the watch on his wrist. The watch was bought for him by his parents in 1973 as a graduation gift —it was not just an object but a sign of love. His parents were still alive and would be celebrating their 62nd wedding anniversary the coming Sunday (August 26), so “for me, this watch could never become obsolete”.

Cardinal Tagle was giving the mid-morning talk ‘Choose Life: Pope Francis on the ‘throw-away’ culture’ on August 22. As an aside, the Cardinal said he had arrived in Ireland at midnight and went straight to bed, to be awakened at 3 a.m. by the fire alarm. He had only an hour of sleep. Still, his conviviality had many laughing through his talk. The Filipinos in the audience waved the national flag as he sent greetings.

He said that while researching the topic in preparation for the talk, he discovered Canadian author KA Harmer was one of the earliest writers hinting at the creation of a throw-away culture. The book, The History of Planned Obsolescence, dated back to the 1930s Depression.

When the world came out of this economically difficulty period, it was the US automobile industry that led the way, promoting the quick turn over of vehicles as “something patriotic”. Gradually, the thinking became part of the consumer products’ industry and today it is part of the culture. Cardinal Tagle said, “It has influenced our mindsets, values and priorities.”

Referencing Future Shock, a 1970 book by the futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler he observed  that the contemporary underlying thinking is “the fact that something exists, it is already obsolete”. This “throw-away aesthetics has changed modern society”.

Joking with married couples present, he said he was sure some husbands and wives wished their marriage certificate had “a best before date”. But jokes aside, Cardinal Tagle said society “needs to recover the sense of the person. We are all created in the image of God and we find out who we are in relationship with others… Our relationships give us our identities and we are all connected.”

We need, he continued, to get out of “the trap of individualism” which leads us “to throw away anyone not connected with us”. This culture in essence is denying our connection with the other: “We see the other as a commodity and people are measured according to their utility or usefulness.”

He joked that he has a market value and as he transitioned from deacon, to priest,  bishop and cardinal, his market value increased. Getting serious, he asked rhetorically what the market values of the unborn child, the elderly, persons with disabilities, criminals, the trafficked, refugees and migrants were.

As President of Caritas International, Cardinal Tagle said he visited a Greek refugee camp near Macedonia, and refugees shared experiences of local bus drivers asking them to pay more for transport to the border. He said this was sad.

Cardinal Tagle concluded with an appeal for Catholics to return to focusing on relationships, checking their lifestyles and values. The best place to inculcate this was in families. “We are the body of Christ. Be attentive. We’re one family. What should be thrown away is the throw-away culture.”



–   Handing on the Faith in the Home Today.

–   No Room at the Inn: a Christian Response to Homelessness.

–   Nowhere to Lay his Head: a Christian Response to Migrants and Refugees.

–   The Family: A Resource for Society.


–   The Vocation of the Business Leader: A Family Business Perspective.

–   Supporting Families Coping with Addictions.

–   Why Get Married in Church? Presenting Sacramental Marriage as a Path to Joy.