23 March 2017
Thinking out of the box: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi says the church should offer discussion not ready-made answers
The Vatican’s blue-skies sage tells Christopher Lamb that the role of the Church is not to offer ready-made answers but to stimulate discussion and debate
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi stood there, beaming, on a stage dominated by women. It was an unusual pose for a senior Roman curial official given that they rarely, if ever, find themselves on a platform where men are outnumbered by the opposite sex. But inside the Holy See’s press office earlier this month, the Vatican’s blue-skies thinker in residence happily stood alongside the 37 Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish women he had appointed as a consultation group to the Pontifical Council for Culture over which he presides.
This is a cardinal unafraid to think outside the box; he pushes boundaries. His passion is ensuring that the Church is able to have a conversation with the contemporary world, and he knows that’s difficult to do if women aren’t involved. In one sense, he is a walking paradox: while he’s at the heart of Church institutions made up of hierarchies and protocols, he is able to look up and out and cue in the Vatican to the latest global trends.
Sitting with him in his office on the Via della Conciliazione is a mind-expanding exercise, the equivalent of having your intellect rolled out like a piece of pizza dough before being put inside a wood-fired oven. During our hour-long interview, his quotations range from Oscar Wilde to Martin Luther King Jr as he darts between President Trump, globalisation and the impact of digital technology.
Ravasi fizzes with ideas and bonhomie: when our discussion turns to violence in sport, he roars with laughter at my inelegant pronunciation of “Serie A” – Italy’s top football league – which comes out as “Syria”. For almost a decade now, he has led the Pontifical Council for Culture, set up by John Paul II in 1982 but with its roots in the Second Vatican Council’s opening up of a dialogue between believers and non-believers. It’s a job he’s taken to with gusto, and despite his 74 years he shows no sign of slowing down.
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