Cat Lovers Appreciate Soul Mate in Vatican
Their names are Shadow, Butch, Misty, Rusty, Sparky, Sunshine, Esther, Marty and Spunky. They are cats, some former strays, some tiger-striped. But to Jan Fredericks of Wayne, N.J., they are family, they are God’s creatures and deserving of compassion.
And in Pope Benedict XVI, Ms. Fredericks, the chairwoman of the fledgling American branch of Catholic Concern for Animals, believes that she has found a kindred spirit: Along with an enormous entourage and a message of peace, the Pope brought with him to the United States a lifelong love of cats.
Benedict’s kindness toward the strays of Rome is already the stuff of Vatican legend. His house in Germany, its garden guarded by a cat statue, was filled with cats when Benedict lived there full time before he was posted to the Vatican in 1982.
And Benedict is, without a doubt, the first pope to have had an authorized biography of him written by a cat — Chico, a ginger tabby who lives across the road from Benedict’s old house in Germany.
“I think it shows a sensitive side, and I believe it shows that God lives in a person,” Ms. Fredericks said Friday. “I think all leaders should have compassion for animals.”
When the pope arrived at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Ms. Fredericks and some members of the group were there, handing out about 300 copies of a pamphlet called “Are We Good Stewards of God’s Creation?” (Also represented outside the stadium was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which wants Benedict to follow up on some scathing criticisms of factory farming he made when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.)
The pope’s fondness for felines has been often remarked upon since his elevation in 2005. One prominent Catholic blogger based in California, who writes under the pen name Gerald Augustinus, claims to have a 2-year-old Siamese named Benedictus, or Benny for short.
And the recently published “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat” (Ignatius Press, 2008) is a children’s book written by Chico with the “aid” of an Italian journalist, Jeanne Perego.
The book, which has been translated into 10 languages and has sold 12,000 copies in the United States, tells of young Joseph Ratzinger’s childhood love for all furry animals and of the adult cardinal’s deep bond with the narrator, who lives in the Bavarian village of Pentling.
“When I’d see that the shades were up next door, I knew he was home,” Chico writes. “Then I’d race over and rub up against his legs. What wonderful times we’ve spent together!”
Chico’s owner, Rupert Hofbauer, confirmed the substance of the book and said that Chico, now 10, misses his old friend, who has not been back to visit since becoming pope.
“Sometimes Chico goes over there on his own,” Mr. Hofbauer said in a telephone interview on Friday, “and he sits on the door sill or walks through the garden.”
Ms. Perego said by phone Friday that the pope’s brother, who lives near Pentling, continues to hang the current year’s cat calendar on the wall of the pope’s house and turn its pages every month in a sort of homage to his absent brother.
Though Benedict is the first pope to be written about by a cat, he falls squarely within a long Vatican tradition. According to “The Papacy: An Encyclopedia,” by Philippe Levillain, Pope Paul II, in the 15th century, had his cats treated by his personal physician. Leo XII, in the 1820s, raised his grayish-red cat, Micetto, in the pleat of his cassock. And according to The Times of London, Paul VI, pope from 1963 to 1978, is said to have once dressed his cat in cardinal’s robes.
When Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German newspaper Bild wrote, he tended to the cats that frequented the garden of the congregation’s building in the Vatican and bandaged their wounds.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told an Italian newspaper in 2005 that the cats sometimes walked him to his office.
“One time the Swiss Guards had to intervene,” Cardinal Bertone joked. “ ‘Look, your eminence, the cats are laying siege to the Holy See.’ ”
Italian media reported that when the pope moved into his papal quarters, he could not bring two beloved cats — notwithstanding the protests of Rome’s animal rights commissioner, who urged the Vatican to “give the two papal cats access to the Apostolic Palace.”
Ms. Fredericks said she thought that the pope would benefit from continued contact with animals. “I think every church should have a cat colony,” she said. “But I don’t think that will happen.”
Victor Homola contributed reporting from Berlin.