Openly campaigning for the papacy is not only taboo, it's usually fatal. Most cardinals are of the belief that if someone actually wants the job, they have no idea what it's about, writes John Allen in NCR Online.
On the other hand, sometimes circumstances align to thrust someone into the spotlight, creating an opportunity to either boost or diminish his electoral prospects, even if that's not officially the purpose of what's going on.
Today one such papabile steps onto the stage in Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a 70-year-old biblical scholar, essayist and intellectual omnivore.
From Sunday evening to Saturday morning, Ravasi will preach the Lenten spiritual exercises for the Roman Curia, an annual retreat during which the Vatican more or less goes into lockdown while its personnel gather in the Redemptoris Mater chapel in the Apostolic Palace.
Ravasi is the son of an anti-fascist tax official who was lost to the young Ravasi for 18 months after deserting the army during World War II. In a typically reflective flourish, Ravasi later said his lifelong search for permanence is probably related to that early sense of loss.
While working on his doctorate at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Ravasi spent time in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Jordan on archeological digs, and later served as prefect of the prestigious Ambrosian Library in Milan.
Among those who know Ravasi, his penchant for literary allusion is legendary; rarely can he talk for more than five minutes without citing wildly diverse sources such as St. Augustine, Isaac Newton, Vladimir Nabakov and the Russian Orthodox liturgy.
Despite his prodigious learning, Ravasi has a strong popular touch. On Friday night in Rome, he delivered some reflections on Albert Camus at the Jesuit-run Church of Gesù, which struggled to contain an overflow crowd.
FULL STORY 'The most interesting man in the church' (NCR)