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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Companions in Creation

Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the U.S. as pontiff was historic for many reasons, but for animal advocates it was especially noteworthy because of the pope’s long history of advocating for kindness and mercy toward animals. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2002, for example, he criticized some of the worst abuses of factory farming, including battery cages and foie gras:

Animals, too, are God’s creatures and even if they do not have the same direct relation to God that man has, they are creatures of his will, creatures we must respect as companions in creation…Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.

The pope’s stay was, without a doubt, a media frenzy, but two news stories in particular caught my eye. The first was the report that police officers patrolling outside the United Nations building during the pope’s visit rescued a distressed beaver struggling in the East River. The 40-pound animal was swimming awkwardly and showed “labored breathing” before he was saved by the NYPD scuba unit. (Sadly, the beaver died during the trip upstate to a wildlife veterinarian, but our thanks still go to the papal security detail for doing all they could to help the animal in need.)

Benedict The second was a heartwarming feature in The New York Times about the pope’s fondness for cats. In fact, on Tuesday, cat lovers made this the most popular e-mailed article from Pope Benedict befriended a ginger tabby named Chico when he lived in Germany, and a recently published biography of the pontiff is told by the feline. At the Vatican, Benedict has often been seen tending to stray cats and bandaging their wounds.

When I was in Rome several years ago, I visited Torre Argentina, which now serves a much more noble purpose than when Brutus stabbed Julius Caesar there in 44 B.C.  The excavated ruins have been transformed into a cat sanctuary where stray and abandoned felines are protected below street level. The dedicated “gattare” (cat ladies) feed, spay, and care for the rescued cats, and place them for adoption.

I know that Pope Benedict must miss the friendship of Chico back in Germany, but I also know that when he’s in Rome, he must feel right at home in a city of cat lovers.


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