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.
Ravasi was scheduled to lead this week’s retreat, delivering a series of spiritual reflections on the Psalms, long before Benedict announced his historic decision to renounce the papacy. The timing, however, means that Ravasi now has a rare opportunity to make a final impression on the other cardinals of the Roman Curia, who are certain to be among the kingmakers in the impending conclave. Moreover, his words will certainly make the rounds in the form of written summaries and rebroadcasts on Vatican Radio, giving the whole world an indirect week-long look at the man who could be pope.