If the cardinal-electors were thinking in terms of news cycles, they might well ask: Who among us would give the church the best day-one story as the next pope? Were that the question, 66-year-old Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni would be a pretty good answer, writes John Allen in NCR Online.
Consider this headline, which would likely be the main narrative if Filoni were elected: "The pope who didn't blink when bombs fell on Baghdad."
The reference is to April 2003, when Filoni was serving as the papal ambassador in Iraq. At a time when other diplomats fled for safety, as well as U.N. officials and journalists, Filoni refused to leave, saying he couldn't abandon the local Catholic community and other suffering Iraqis.
"If a pastor flees in moments of difficulty," he said later, "the sheep are lost."
Filoni remained in the country for the aftermath of the war, as Christians found themselves primary targets amid rising chaos. He refused to adopt special security measures, wanting to face the same risks as locals who didn't have access to guards and armored vehicles. He said his aim was to be seen "as an Iraqi, by the Iraqis."
That choice almost cost him dearly in February 2006, when a car bomb went off outside the nunciature, demolishing a garden wall and smashing window panes, but luckily leaving no one hurt. Afterward, a Muslim contractor showed up with 30 workers to repair the damage out of respect for the solidarity Filoni had shown.
Born in Taranto, Italy, in 1946, Filoni's seminary studies coincided with the period of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and his episcopal motto is Lumen gentium Christus, recalling the council's dogmatic constitution on the church.
In a 2012 interview, Filoni said one of the ways he survived the upheaval of the 1970s, when he was doing graduate study, was by living in a parish rather than a college. As a result, he said, he kept contact with the practical concerns of real people instead of getting caught up in ideological debates.
Filoni earned doctorates in both philosophy and canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University. He also has a degree from Rome's Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali, a prestigious secular institution, where he studied "techniques of public opinion," specializing in journalism.
FULL STORY Papabile of the day: Cardinal Fernando Filoni (NCR)