Is Italy ready to take back the papacy after being shut out by the Polish John Paul II and Germany's Benedict XVI? This truck driver's son is the Italians' best hope.
VATICAN CITY - For four days the cardinals met in a spacious meeting hall for open discussions in six separate sessions of the pre-conclave General Congregation. But it is in the private one-on-one conversations where the strongest "papabili" have begun to emerge ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s opening of the conclave to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
Among the most likely candidates, there is growing support converging around the name of Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, the Archbishop of Milan.
Firmly on the list of the possible candidates for pope since Benedict announced his surprise resignation last month, Scola could receive early votes from cardinals from the United States, Europe, and notably his native Italy, which still counts by far the biggest single voting bloc at 28 voting-age “princes of the Church.”
Moreover, his Oasis Foundation, a Church-run initiative to open dialogue with the Muslim world, has helped Scola to establish relationships with leaders in the Eastern Rite Churches, for example with the influential Lebanese Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Rahi.
Pope Benedict long held Scola in high esteem, and moved him from the important position of Patriarch of Venice to the even-more important diocese of Milan in 2011. It is also well known that Benedict, on the advice of another influential Italian prelate Cardinal Camillo Ruini, had also considered him in 2007 for appointment as President of the Italian Bishops Conference. But the then newly appointed Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, opposed the move, and the hypothesis was dropped. Partly for this reason, Scola is seen by many as an outsider to the Roman Curia, and thus left unstained by the troubled management of the Vatican in recent years.
Born in Malgrate, near Milan, Scola is the son of a truck driver, who was drawn in his youth to the teachings of Father Luigi Giussani, founder of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. After earning his degree in philosophy, Scola taught in high schools before entering the seminary, and was connected since the 1970s to then theology professor Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI.
With his international stature, the Milan archbishop could be one of the candidates to gain support from the very first balloting in the Conclave on Tuesday. Other names that may gain votes early are Brazilian Odilo Pedro Scherer, Canadian Marc Ouellet, Hungarian Peter Erdö, as well as other Latin Americans, and outsiders from Sri Lanka, Philippines and the United States.
All possible scenarios are open. But already by the second day of the conclave, the dynamic could shift, and as happened in the second conclave of 1978, we could be in for a surprise.