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Papal Cats & Possible Posers

Given the upcoming abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, I thought I would repost this blog post from 2005. It is about the papal cats. Banned from the Vatican, I suspect the kitties will have a long awaited reunion.

We have come to learn that two papal pussycats presented here as the beloved felines of Pope Benedict XVI may have been imposters! It just goes to show you how far some cats will go to get attention and acknowledgment. What alerted us to the situation was another news article that offered a short description of his cats. Given that changing a cats color through dyes is illegal in Italy, we think we have been had. However, there is so much misinformation going around, we are not totally sure even now.

Here is the inside dope from MSNBC’s Sandy Robins. Pope Benedict VI is “the proud owner of Chico, a black-and-white domestic short hair that lives at the pope’s home in the Bavarian town of Tübingen, Germany.” Agnes Heindl, housekeeper to the pope’s brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, told MSNBC that Chico is currently being looked after by the caretaker of the pope’s private residence. . . . “There’s also a multi-colored tabby cat that hangs around a lot of the time and keeps Chico company.”

The Russian News Agency reported that Pope Benedict’s cats have been barred from the apostolic palace by the Vatican’s administrative services. We read: “New Pope of Rome Benedict XVI, who moved into the papal quarters last week, faced an unexpected problem – the Vatican administrative services did not allow him taking two cats to his new home. . . . Everyone knows about the Pontiff’s love for cats, a representative of the Rome City Hall said on Tuesday. She said the Pontiff now has to pay frequent visits to his old apartment outside the Vatican and take care of his cats. Everyone hopes that the Vatican will eventually grant the cats an access to the Apostolic Palace, she added. Isn’t he the Pope? Isn’t he sovereign? If he says, “I’m taking the cats,” who will say No?”

MSNBC also reported: “According to local news reports, the pope used to walk the streets of Borgo Pio, his former Roman neighborhood just east of the Vatican, where neighbors likened him to Dr. Dolittle with a Pied Piper charm. Stray cats would run to him when they saw him coming and he used to prepare food for them daily on special plates.”

Ratzinger says that while growing up, the pope and his family always had cats. But now, he says, the only cats in his own home are a “collection of porcelain plates with painted cats on them, mementos from different European vacations with my brother.”

The Knight-Ridder News Agency reported in April 2005 that the theologian Karl Baumgartner had once accompanied the cardinal to a cemetery behind Campasanto Teutonica, a church in Rome. He recalls that “It was full of cats and when he went out, they all ran to him. They knew him and loved him. He stood there, petting some and talking to them, for quite a long time. He visited the cats whenever he visited the church. His love for cats is quite famous.”

The Kansas City Star reported that “[His housekeeper] pointed up a staircase to a wall full of painted plates, each depicting a different cat. The brothers collected the plates together, she said. ‘When we were on vacation, a cat, a little kitten, would come by, and he’d be giddy, almost giggling with joy,’ she said. ‘Cats love him; they always go to him straight away. And he loves them back.'”

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said that the Pope talks to cats whenever he sees them, “Every time he met a cat he would talk to it, sometimes for a long time.” Bertone wondered if the Pope used a special language to talk to cats. “I tried to understand the language he used with cats, who were always enchanted when he met them. I thought maybe it was a Bavarian dialect. I don’t know.”

Once 10 cats followed the Pope into the Vatican. Cardinal Bertone remembers that as the Pope walked into the Vatican with his kitty disciples, one of the Swiss Guards had to intervene, saying: “Look, Your Eminence, the cats are invading the Holy See.”

Michael L. Tan for the Inquirer News Service (May 11, 2005) gave the following background to this story: “Cats do make it into Christian folklore and art. One folk tale has the Virgin Mary asking animals in the stable if they could help put the newborn Jesus to sleep. None of the animals could help, but a gray tabby kitten, itself just born, was said to have climbed into the manager and purred Jesus to sleep. The Virgin Mary rewarded the tabby kitten by allowing all tabby kittens, from that day forth, to wear the letter “M” on their foreheads. . . . Apparently there are two patron saints for cats and cat lovers. One is St. Agatha, an early Christian virgin-martyr. Her connection with cats isn’t clear, except that she is said to appear in the form of a cat to punish women who don’t stop working on her feast day. Nope, she doesn’t sound too nice. . . . St. Gertrude of Nivelles comes through as kinder, a noblewoman who refused to marry and ended up as abbess of a convent. Again her life doesn’t seem to have anything to do with cats, but she was invoked during the bubonic plague and she’s sometimes depicted with rats. She’s also the patron saint of gardeners. . . . St. Ives, the patron saint of lawyers, is often depicted with a cat or, strangely, as a cat himself. Now what does that tell us about lawyers? . . . There’s always St. Francis of Assisi, a patron saint of all animal lovers and who once said, “All creatures are created from the same paternal heartbeat.” Gender-correct language wasn’t in place yet then; he was referring to God. Not surprisingly, there’s a cat story for him as well: During the bubonic plague, he was saved by a cat that sprang miraculously out of his sleeve.”

Why is it that some many are excited by the new Pope’s love for cats? It may be because most tyrants and despots in the history hated cats. Cats cannot be controlled. They do what they want and yet can show some semblance of affection. The Church’s teachings also come into play, particularly in a world where animals are abused and many species have been pushed to extinction.

Here is a cat who has apparently learned something of the value that belongs to prayer. We should never underestimate heavenly intercession, no matter whether it be for holiness or extra tuna. It seems that Cardinal Ratzinger has taught this kitty its CATechism quite well.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s Bavarian home has a walled garden where a bronze sculpture of the Virgin Mary gazes over beds of flowers across from a statue of a cat next to a sliding glass door. He would regularly holiday there. Back in 2002, he responded to a question about the care of animals, “That is a very serious question. At any rate, we can see that they are given into our care, that we cannot just do whatever we want with them. Animals, too, are God’s creatures.”

The universal Catholic Catechism states that “Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with His providential care. By their mere existence they bless Him and give Him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals. . . . It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

popekitty21b

Where does the body of a PAPAL CAT go when it dies? The answer is easy, to the CATacombs under the Vatican of course!

Picture of cat watching tv courtesy of Friends of Roman Cats.

Picture of Pope Cat from ASHY1384 at AOL.

2 Responses

  1. I loved this lighthearted article- and the pictures were adorable, especially the white Kitty ‘praying.’I hope that in the future kitties will be able to liven up the Papal residence.

  2. Well, at least he will be able to have cats with him in his retirement. Apparently there are a lot of cats where he’s living for him to take care of. : )

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