Benedict XVI: A look back at the cat-loving pope’s favorite feline friends

 

Benedict XVI greeted a fluffy black cat named Pushkin during his visit to the Birmingham Oratory established by St. John Henry Newman. / Courtesy of the Birmingham Oratory

Rome Newsroom, Jan 1, 2023 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

The late Benedict XVI was known for his intellectual acumen as a theologian and philosopher, but perhaps his most relatable quality was that he was a cat person.

As we remember the life and legacy of the pope, here is a look at his favorite feline friends from Bavaria to the Vatican gardens:

Vaticats

“God’s Rottweiler” was actually more of a cat-lover than an attack dog. When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, served as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he would often feed the many cats that lived in the Vatican gardens.

Jeanne Perego, the author of a children’s biography of the life of Benedict XVI through the eyes of a cat, told CNA how the Bavarian pope was a true “Cat-holic.”

“He never passed by a cat without petting it,” Perego told CNA.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who worked side by side with Ratzinger in the Roman Curia, has said that cats were “a great love” for Benedict.

The cardinal told Famiglia Cristiana shortly after Benedict’s election how the future pope would talk to the Roman street cats: “He stopped and said a few words in German, probably in Bavarian dialect.”

“He always brought the cats something to eat and pulled them back to the courtyard of the congregation,” Bertone said.

Bavarian cats

The future pope’s love of cats had deep roots. His older brother Georg said in an interview before his death that the Ratzinger family had their own cats when they lived in Hufschlag, “along with others that passed through the garden.”

Konrad Baumgartner, a theology professor at the University of Regensburg, where Ratzinger taught in the 1970s, recalled that “the place was full of cats.”

He said that when Ratzinger would walk out of the church, the cats would follow him: “They knew him and loved him. He stayed with them and caressed them for a long time.”

Chico

Chico was a red tabby cat who belonged to the Ratzinger’s neighbors in Pentling, Bavaria immortalized in the illustrated book, “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told By a Cat.

“Chico was a big reddish cat with a lot of character,” Perego, the author of the children’s book, told CNA. She said that she was inspired to write the book while researching Benedict’s early life in Bavaria and meeting Chico, whom the international press were already referring to as “his cat.”

In the book, Chico the cat narrates the life of Joseph Ratzinger from his childhood in Germany to his election as the 265th Roman pontiff. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the pope’s personal secretary, wrote in the book’s introduction: “The pope also loves cats and all animals because they are creatures of God.”

Chico, who was already fully grown at the time of Benedict’s election as pope, died in the fall of 2012, according to Perego.

Pushkin

During Benedict XVI’s apostolic trip to the United Kingdom in 2010, he visited the Birmingham Oratory established by St. John Henry Newman.

At the oratory, the pope encountered an unexpected friend — a fluffy black cat named Pushkin. The oratory cat wore a ribbon with the papal colors, yellow and white, around his neck for the occasion.

Journalists snapped photos as Pope Benedict stroked the cat’s chin and ears. He said: “Aren’t you pretty? What’s his name? How old is he?”

Pushkin, who was 10 years old at the time, went on to live another eight years and even penned his own memoir, “Pushkin the Pontifical Puss: Tails of an Oratory Cat,” which also details the time he met Princess Michael of Kent.

Contessina and Zorro

After Benedict XVI retired to Mater Ecclesiae Monastery inside the walls of Vatican City State, he continued to greet some of the cats who lived in the Vatican gardens. Two of the Vaticats in particular made an impression.

“Contessa and Zorro, two cats that live in our gardens, come often to say hello to the pope emeritus,” Gänswein told the Italian magazine BenEssere on March 25, 2016.

At a time when the pope emeritus was largely hidden away from the world, a photo of Benedict holding the little gray and white cat named Zorro caught the world’s attention.

Contessa, also known by the diminutive, Contessina, was a black and white kitten who was also photographed alongside the pope during his years of retirement living within Vatican City’s walls.

As Catholics remember Benedict XVI ahead of his funeral this week, some have found ways to honor the late pope, as well as his love of cats.

Raymond Pasek from Fishers, Indiana, shared on social media that his family prayed a rosary together for Benedict XVI and his daughters donated some of their Christmas money to a local animal shelter in his honor.


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