Gianfranco Ravasi

After getting this brilliant idea to Papabile of the Day a week or so ago, yesterday I found out that John Allen is doing the same.  I highly recommend checking out his series, even though it does require going to the National Catholic Reporter’s website.  To say that John Allen knows his stuff when it comes to the Vatican is an understatement.  There are few other Americans who know the Italians, Rome, and the Vatican like John does.  Many Americans think they know the Vatican, but unless you live in Rome, you can’t.  John is a gem.  I may not agree with everything he says (and I think it would be in his best interest to write for another paper), but he’s a true journalist, in the best sense of the word.

With John’s series in mind, I’m not going to even attempt to give you an exhaustive account of each man I choose.  I’ll just give you some biographical notes, some reasons why I think each man has a chance of getting elected, and some reasons why I think he might not.

Cardinal Ravasi

The first thing in the Cardinal’s favor is that he’s from Italy.  While I don’t buy the idea that the Italian factions are going to unite and put forward a candidate, I also think there are strong Italian “candidates” and I wouldn’t be surprised if our stretch of non-Italians was over for awhile.

For a few years before becoming Cardinal, Ravasi wrote a daily column in an Italian Catholic newspaper.  Called “Morning Prayer,” it combined a short meditation or thought for the day with quotes from a variety of people — saints, authors, Scripture, philosophers.  If you follow Ravasi on twitter (@CardRavasi_en) you’ll see a similar theme to his tweets.

He spent most of his life as a professor and collaborated with the future Cardinal Martini. Martini is not known as a conservative, and although Ravasi is probably more “conservative” than Martini, it still struck some as odd that Ravasi found a fan in Pope Benedict.  However, anyone who really knows Benedict knows that he doesn’t put people in “liberal” and “conservative” boxes and knows truth when he sees it.  So he clearly saw something in Ravasi- and continues to, as well.

In 2007 Ravasi was asked by Pope Benedict to write the meditations for the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum.  (Something that Benedict himself did in 2005, when John Paul II prayed them with us for the last time, days before his death.)  Soon after that, in the fall of 2007, Benedict appointed Ravasi as President of the Pontifical Council for Culture Culture.

If Ravasi has made waves in that position, it’s because he is a firm believer in dialogue – even with non-believers.  Under his leadership, the Pontifical Council for Cultural began an initiative called “Courtyard of the Gentiles” to dialogue with the secular culture, and events have been held in cities like Stockholm and Paris — places not known for their religiosity these days.

While he’s taken some heat for the ways he’s chosen to reach out (many say to stop dialoguing and start converting), it’s something very close to the heart of Benedict, who in his 2009 Christmas Greeting to the Curia reminded them: “Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.”

(Just a note– that Christmas greeting every year is one of the best ways to see what’s on Benedict’s mind and where the Church is headed.  Every one is a gem.)

Ravasi was the first churchman I followed on Twitter (Christmas of 2011), not really knowing who he was.  I’ve since found that he’s rather well-known for his willingness to engage the world in these different avenues (a good quality for someone in charge of the Pontifical Council for Culture) and he’s been on Twitter since 2011.

He notes, “We need to remember that communicating faith doesn’t just take place through sermons. It can be achieved through the 140 characters of a Twitter message.”

This isn’t without potential for controversy.  Earlier this year one of his tweets featured a quote from an Amy Winehouse song.  I did a double-take.  Was an Italian Curia member really just quoting Amy Winehouse?  Yep.  He’s not afraid to engage the culture… and while I’m pretty sure that’s a check mark on the “pro” side of the list, it may be a check mark on the “con” side as well.

Outside of the Italians and his group of followers on Twitter, I’m not sure anyone would know is name if it wasn’t for the fact that he was chosen by Benedict to preach the Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia.  Last week the Vatican offices were closed and the Curia attended the spiritual reflections — it was expected that Benedict would attend every session.

So… the entire Curia just spent the week listening to this man.  Could that impact the ballots cast?  Seems very possible.

I like the fact that he’s willing to engage the culture and think outside the box.  This is crucial to the New Evangelization.  We have always had the Gospel.  But we have not always preached  that Gospel in the most fruitful ways.  Think of Paul at the Areopagus.  (which is exactly what Benedict referenced in that Curia address).  You have to know your audience. Pope Benedict using Twitter has shown us that he also believes the Church has to preach the Gospel in new ways.

Why Ravasi won’t be the next Pope… He’s been a professor all his life, not an administrator.  There are serious problems in the administration of the Vatican State and the Curial offices, and an administrator Pope is an urgent need.

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