Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the U.S. today to a warm welcome from Catholics – and cats. He’s well-known around Rome for stopping to chat with and feed strays. He even authorized a cat to be his official biographer. I’m not kidding.
The Vatican doesn’t allow pets these days. They say it’s a security thing. But there’s ongoing debate over whether the pope shares his papal apartments with two cats, one of them a former stray he owned before. The Vatican won’t confirm or deny, so I’m surprised nobody has checked for cat hair on his robes.
When the archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was in Rome for the pope’s inauguration in 2005, he said, “The street talk that the pope loves cats is incorrect. The pope adores cats.”
MSNBC reported that the pope has a black-and-white cat named Chico living back home in Tübingen, Germany, but I couldn’t find any other references to this particular cat. I think they got their story jumbled.
Chico is actually a 9-year-old ginger tabby in Pentling, Germany, who befriended the pope in his cardinal days when they were next-door neighbors. Chico’s owners now take care of the pope’s house, which he still visits occasionally. He had hoped to retire there.
Chico enjoys sitting on the pope’s lap while he plays the piano and reminisces.
In 2007, Chico wrote and published his friend’s pre-Vatican life story in a children’s book called Joseph and Chico – A Cat Recounts the Life of Pope Benedict XVI.
Italians are happy to have a cat-loving pope because they’re still grateful to us for leaping in to help rid the country of plague-carrying rats who were killing them in the 13th century. Italy is one of the most progressive countries in the world in promoting animal welfare. Since 1991, it’s been illegal to kill healthy dogs and cats in shelters.
So even though mass means “hairballs” to cats, we’re pleased to welcome Pope Benedict. It comes as no surprise that a man who was born as Joseph Rat-zinger became a lifelong cat-lover.