Sunday, April 20, 2008

"The cats are laying siege to the Holy See"

At the Times, Andy Newman on the Pope as cat-lover:
. . . Benedict is, without a doubt, the first pope to have had an authorized biography of him written by a cat — Chico, a tabby who lives across the road from Benedict’s old house in Germany.

. . .

[T]he 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 a 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.

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