The Founder’s Pen
~by Susi Pittman
March 5, 2014: Pope Benedict XVI & The Cats of Rome
John Paul II was pontiff during the greater part of my middle adult life. He had a presence about him when he was out in creation that echoed “Gloria” to the heavens for God’s great gift, and you could see it in the twinkle of his eyes and the joy of his step. I so connected with him and his beautiful exhortations on Creator/created, he always seemed to be striving to bring us back to the roots of being the family of Creation.
Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was so much a part of the inner, private life of John Paul II that I felt compelled to find out more about him. How could someone so close to John Paul II not be themselves, lovers of creation and its creatures? I was not disappointed.
Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Ratzinger, the youngest of three children with a brother Georg who is now 85+ years of age and a retired priest and a sister, Maria, who passed in 1991 at the age of 69. There was always a cat in the home. If a Christmas arrived without a cat, it was a surety that Joseph would receive a kitten as his Christmas gift. A prominent Cardinal once remarked, “The street talk that the pope loves cats is incorrect. The pope adores cats.” And the cats adored him too!
When the then Cardinal Ratzinger was called to Rome in 1981, by John Paul II, he had landed in “cat heaven!” Rome was full of cats and it didn’t take the cats long to find the one who would look out for their well-being.
You see, the Italians have had a love affair with the cat ever since the thirteenth-century. It was at that time that diseased rats had plagued the cities killing thousands of people. Cats were brought in by huge numbers to kill the rats, which they did very efficiently, thus helping to bring good health back to Italy. The Italians have never forgotten this and have allowed cats to move about the city freely.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s apartment was a short way from the Vatican and he took it upon himself to feed, nurse and generally care for the cats that came to his residence. One day when he was walking to meet with John Paul II at the Vatican, a Swiss Guard was heard to say, “The cats are laying siege to the Vatican,” because of the many cats that were accompanying the Cardinal on his walk from his apartment. So well known is our present Pontiff’s love of cats that a book about the Holy Father was written by a cat, JOSEPH AND CHICO.
The Holy Father used to take in numerous cats at his apartment, to nurse them back to health, to feed them and to enjoy their company. His courtyard was always a quiet respite for the cats to visit.
His Holiness continues to ask us in the spirit of John Paul II to re-evaluate our relationship with the world and its creatures and to move into committed, responsible stewardship of this planet. He remarks, “Each one does God’s will where He places us to work.”
We honor Pope Benedict XVI today and always as a blessing in the life of the faithful and as our teacher in good stewardship of creation.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.
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