God & I: Msgr. Diego Giovanni Ravelli

February 05 2024 | by

[Editorial staff translation] 

YOUR Excellency, being so close to Pope Francis during liturgical celebrations, can you explain to us how the liturgy can help Christians grow in faith?

There are indeed many reasons why the liturgy is a great help for every Christian. First of all, because it is a fundamental nourishment for our faith. Through the liturgy we are always touched by the paschal mystery; through it we can experience the Risen Lord, his living presence beside us. The liturgy puts us in a position to always receive, in a renewed form, this fundamental and free gift: eternal life, the life of the children of God.

We also cannot forget that liturgical prayer is not the prayer of the individual believer, but of the Church. Thus the liturgy nourishes in each of us the awareness that we are a part of a people, and this awareness can really help us to take concrete steps to better live communion with our brothers and sisters around the world.

Perhaps another aspect ought to be highlighted: liturgy requires us to know how to obey forms that do not depend on us, that do not change every time, but maintain a stability of their own. We often believe that only what is spontaneous and immediate is ‘true’… but in this way we risk letting ourselves go only according to our moods or whims. The liturgy teaches us that we are not the protagonists who can say and do anything according to our inclinations of the moment; instead, the liturgy can lead us by the hand and invites us to entrust ourselves, to listen and to be shaped by this gift that the Church has prepared for us.


On 27 June 2023, you were appointed Pontifical Delegate for the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, Italy. What is your connection to this Saint?

I’d like to share with you that in the church of my home parish in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, as in many other churches around the world, there is a beautiful statue of St. Anthony. He is depicted in the usual way, with the Baby Jesus in his arms. What struck me about that statue was the goodness in the Saint’s face, the look of tenderness that characterized the image. I think I could describe my bond with the Saint this way: as feeling his protective gaze on me and accepting from him the invitation to keep my relationship with Jesus alive and in a mood of trust, as St. Anthony did.

I would also add the detail of the lily, which St. Anthony holds in his hand in that statue. We know that the lily is often used as a symbol of purity. But I think it is also a symbol of perfume, given the very intense fragrance that is released when it is in full bloom. The Christian life also needs to express this fragrance, which suggests beauty and freshness. I would like to feel connected to St. Anthony also from this point of view, as a reminder to keep my eyes open to the many signs of fragrance and beauty that the Lord will not fail to sow along my path. And I believe that the brightest signs, in this respect, will be the many people I will be able to meet, reading in their eyes their desire for God, and their desire to be heard.


St. Anthony’s Basilica is a great center of popular devotion. What is your opinion of this form of devotion, which the Holy Father has even called “the immune system of the Church”?

I believe that every form of popular devotion can express an important aspect of our faith life, namely the affective dimension. In our spirituality as Christians, we certainly need to think, to deepen the various aspects of our faith; it is also important to manifest what we believe through our good works; however, we also need to feel deeply, affectively, that the Lord draws us to Himself with great solicitude, that He bends over us with mercy. Popular devotion can help us in this: Mary, the saints, can act as mediators to whom we entrust ourselves without thinking too much, but letting ourselves be attracted by their benevolence that is able to show us the way to the Lord, with immediacy and transparency; often through the sympathy they arouse in us.

Thinking then about the Basilica of St. Anthony, I believe one of the reasons for the importance of St. Anthony’s devotion is the need for reconciliation present in the hearts of so many of the faithful. The possibility of approaching the sacrament of reconciliation with St. Anthony at your side instills in so many people who are lonely or in need of serenity the courage to open their hearts, to confide without fear.


During the last World Youth Day in Portugal, a picture was taken of you with Pope Francis in front of a relic of St. Anthony. What can you tell us about that experience?

That happened almost by chance, during a moment of waiting in the sacristy before the final Eucharistic celebration of the WYD. I was able to show the Pope the bust of St. Anthony with a relic inside which had come from Padua. Since Pope Francis often asks me how things are going in Padua, it seemed like a good opportunity to make sure that, in some way, he too was close to Padua, symbolically, through that relic that he touched and venerated with the sign of the cross. Then, of course, we also know that the Pope joked that the Paduans “stole” St. Anthony from Lisbon, taking him away from his hometown. In actual fact Pope Francis knows very well that St. Anthony is a man who set forth, who traveled far and wide, and that now he is everybody’s Saint and many people rely on his intercession.


Do you feel you have a special connection with Saint Anthony?

Perhaps the link I feel most strongly about is St. Anthony’s great concreteness. We often see him depicted in a serene and welcoming, pacified attitude. But we know that his life was filled with uncertainties, restlessness and fatigue. His journey of faith was that of a man who never stopped searching, never stopped trying to better understand what the Lord was asking of him, often even through difficult circumstances. And, throughout, beyond the various situations he went through, a living concern that St. Anthony always clearly expressed was his great attention for the poor, his passionate inclination to stand up for the oppressed and victims of injustice.

Sometimes Anthony spoke out against powerful and violent people, risking his own life in the process! Now, this I think may be the link that keeps me united with St. Anthony: his continuous search, but also his concrete dedication to the poor. I recently discovered a beautiful sentence from one of his Sermons dedicated to the Resurrection of the Lord: “The Lord stands in his poor at the door and knocks, and it is opened to him when the poor man is succoured.” The Saint always reminds us: welcoming the Lord requires going through the suffering flesh of so many of our brothers and sisters.


St. Anthony passed away almost 800 years ago, yet every year millions of faithful come to his shrine here in Padua. What do you think they look for from the saint of Padua?

Seeing and listening to many people who have spoken to me about St. Anthony, I believe that, in the end, his attraction for so many people remains a mystery. We can never know for sure why so many people turn to St. Anthony. However, I feel I can say this: many people are looking for someone to listen to them, someone to whom they can tell their lives, to whom they can entrust friends and loved ones. Anthony is one who listens, who listens to everyone; we can tell him everything about ourselves, and he is not shocked. He puts himself close to us as a friend. In the end he does not necessarily ‘answer’ every kind of prayer, but to everyone – this I can confirm – he gives the attention of deep listening, with respect and without that haste to which we are unfortunately accustomed.

And already this is a source of hope and confidence which enables us to start again with a little more serenity. Arriving at Anthony’s Tomb many people place their hands on the marble slab beyond which his body rests. And above the chapel that houses the Saint’s mortal remains, his Ark, one can read the Gospel quote, the words of Jesus: Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Certainly it is the Lord Jesus who gives us hope, welcome and rest; but the Lord often uses his saints to bring us this assurance of being looked after with affection. Laying our hand, or our forehead, on the Saint’s Tomb makes us feel in communion with him; it instills a sense of relief that almost enables us to breathe more easily.


In 2000 you graduated with a degree in educational methodology; how would you explain God to a child?

This is a very difficult question, and no pedagogical study can provide the right and definitive answer. I am of the opinion that no valid, ‘once-and-for-all’ answer can be given here. Instead, I am convinced that it is important to enter into a dialogue with that particular child to whom one would like to say something about God. You know, children often just need to ask a few questions and like to speak freely. Thus, with this hypothetical child, one could let him speak first, and through what he says and recounts, one can guess his dreams, his fears, his desires.

And perhaps, through this dialogue, one can try to ‘explain’ God by talking about Him just as Jesus ‘told’ and revealed Him to us, as an ever-good Father, with a heart so welcoming that He will never stop loving us, will never be tired of welcoming us when we make mistakes. A Father who helps us find our way by giving us friends who can help us. For a child, I think, it will be important to describe the Lord as one who does not leave us alone, who always finds a way to show us his friendship.


The current synod of bishops, which will end in October 2024, has as its theme, For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission. What do you think the Church needs at this moment in history in order to have true communion?

This is also a very challenging question, and I would like to say just a few things without presuming to resolve very broad issues. I believe that the Church first of all needs to courageously recover the closeness of ties, of mutual relationships. Perhaps, even in the Church, many times in the past we have tried to specify clearly structures, roles, functions, programs, priorities, etc., thus risking putting in the background what matters most: the concrete depth of our relationships; the beauty of being able to share the joy of one’s faith. This also requires being able to count on mutual help. A great ‘enemy’ for a Church that really wants to be synodal is the temptation to ‘go it alone’.

Sometimes we think that alone we can solve more problems and do it more quickly. In actual fact it is much better to walk more slowly, but to do it together. Only in this way can we take steps that really have the flavor of the Gospel. I would also like to say that this care of mutual relationships already constitutes ‘mission’. The mission of Christians is first of all to proclaim God’s love, but this love risks being an abstraction with little credibility if we, personally, do not give concrete proof of it through our being together. It is no longer a matter of setting up grand programs, of chasing after events of planetary dimensions. We must recover faith in the grain of wheat, in the yeast thrown into the dough, in the mustard seed. These are the images Jesus gives us when he speaks to us about the Kingdom of God, and they are all images under the banner of smallness and concreteness.


BORN ON 1 November 1965 in Lazzate near Milan in northern Italy, Diego Giovanni Ravelli was ordained a priest in 1991. In the year 2000 he obtained a diploma in pedagogical methodology from the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. He then earned a doctorate in sacred liturgy at the Liturgical Institute of the Pontifical Athenaeum of Saint Anselm in 2010.

On 2 June 2003 Ravelli was nominated Chaplain to His Holiness. Then, on 25 February 2006 he was nominated Papal Master of Ceremonies, and on 12 October 2013 chief of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity.

On 11 October 2021 Pope Francis nominated him Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, with the annexed office of Head of Pontifical Musical Chorus of the Sistine Chapel.

On 11 June 2022 Ravelli was nominated consultor to the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and on 21 April 2023 Pope Francis nominated him Titular Archbishop of Recanati. Finally, on 27 June of the same year, he was nominated Pontifical Delegate for the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua.

Msgr. Ravelli has also published a book (not available in English) on the liturgy: The Solemnity of the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica – History and Forms of the Holy Mass.



Updated on February 05 2024