By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published October 14, 2010 | En Español
Life inside the papal apartment is generally a very private matter, and rarely do we catch a glimpse of how the Holy Father might spend the few hours when he is alone and not engaged in prayer, study or private meetings. Occasionally, however, we do get some snippets of what some of the recent Holy Fathers’ personal joys might include. Usually these are never confirmed officially but continue to survive aided by a persistent casual observation or two.
It has long been reported that Pope Pius XII loved canaries and perhaps kept some that would sing to his delight. There are too many rumors to dismiss the real possibility that Pope John Paul II occasionally escaped the Vatican to spend a day skiing or hiking in the Italian mountains—especially in the earlier years of his pontificate. More than a few commentators have noted that Pope Benedict is a cat lover and was publicly known as such when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he was fond of feeding a few felines on his walks around the Vatican.
In a recent photograph taken during his visit to Great Britain, he was clearly delighted to meet a cat by the name of Pushkin who lived in the apartment once occupied by Blessed John Cardinal Newman. The broad smile on the pope’s face in that photograph was further proof that this Holy Father has a real fondness for felines.
Whether or not there is a kitten or two in the papal apartments is at least for the time being still a pontifical secret. But there is no secret that this pope is a cat lover.
Earlier this month, many of our own pets were blessed on or near the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Tradition tells us that Francis had a special way with nature and with all kinds of creatures, thus giving rise to our current practice of blessing animals near his feast day. Catholics (and in a special way perhaps our children) can be taught great lessons about the beauty and the wonder of God’s creation through the care that they give to animals. Teaching children to care for animals is a good way to have them learn that all of God’s creation is both good and deserving of our careful stewardship.
We live in an increasingly “green” world where we must all be attentive to the limited and precious resources of this earth that are intended to be used by all men and women in a reverential way so that they will last beyond our own particular times and immediate needs. Our Holy Father has made repeated references to the importance of respecting and caring for nature. Under his watch a number of green initiatives have been introduced in the Vatican, such as solar panels on some of those ancient buildings that now render them more energy efficient and serve as a model to all of us of how we should use technology to preserve many of the limited resources of this planet.
Now whether Pope Benedict’s respect for nature and his love of cats have introduced a couple of pets into the papal apartment is still an unknown. But it is nice to imagine that the Holy Father might have such a four-legged residential guest who brings a smile to his face. A feline resident who regularly comes to see him not as the Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church or Christ’s Vicar but simply as someone who is delighted to hear a purr or two now and then in the otherwise solemn papal chambers.