Thavis attended St. John’s Elementary School and Loyola High School, graduating in 1969. He then attended St. John’s University in central Minnesota.
A lifelong Catholic, he said Catholics around the world do pay attention to the pope.
“Catholics pray for the pope every week at Mass, they have him on their mind,” he said. “Catholics experience the church at the local level. But the pope represents the church at a universal level.”
Thavis said he thinks Catholics will remember Pope Benedict as a fine teacher of the faith, as a man who took the church back to its roots. But the world — and the media — will remember him as a pope they never really understood.
As a thoughtful academic, Pope Benedict had the difficult task of following Pope John Paul II, one of the most charismatic figures in all of religion.
“He was more connected to the world than Benedict,” Thavis said. “When he arrived, he was young, vigorous — he captured people by force of personality, whereas Benedict depersonalized it.”
As they decide whom to choose next, the College of Cardinals will have to decide whether to stick with an academic, or perhaps return to age where the papacy was driven by a charismatic figure. And as the world continues to be transformed by technology, they’ll need to decide if they want a pope who knows his way around a Twitter feed.
“They’re going to be looking for skills in communication, someone who can speak many languages, someone who uses social media,” Thavis said. “Pope Benedict was tweeting, but it was someone else doing it. He still writes his documents in long hand.”
They’ll also be wrestling with the changing demographics of the Catholic Church.
While much of the College of Cardinals remains European, the church’s biggest growth areas are South American, Africa and Asia.
As is tradition, the followers who gather to await the outcome of the conclave will be mostly Italian. They’re likely to want an Italian pope. But in the 1980s, when Pope John Paul II was chosen, he was Polish.
“I was in the square when they announced it,” Thavis said. “The Romans in the square were stunned and disappointed — until he came out and spoke to them in pretty good Italian.”