A Visit to Pope Benedict
“Now let’s head left” said St. Catherine, “to the Petriano Entrance, and hopefully a Swiss guard will direct us to see..” “ Pope Francis” asked Lily. “Not immediately, we will see him last, and the old saying still proves true, ‘Last but not least'’". Cutting through the great Bernini Colonnades, Catherine led the cats and the other animals towards the Petriano Entrance. Now there were quite a lot of people around and it was midmorning, but something supernatural made the sight of a Dominican Tertiary, albeit a medieval one, plus eight cats, a bear, a wolf, a mouse, a raven, and huge grey hound, seem the most normal sight in the world. It was all decidedly odd for no-one batted an eyelid.
When Catherine and her company arrived at the Petriano Entrance, the Swiss Guardsman manning the gate was not remotely put out. “With all these cats Sister, I presume you will be wanting see Emeritus Pope Benedict”. “We do indeed!” said Catherine. “Shall I get someone to show you where he lives?” “Oh there’s no need for that kind Sir, I know the way well enough.” So the guard let them through.
It was only several minutes later, when Catherine and her company had passed the Domus Sanctae Marthae and disappeared from sight, that the guard came to his senses, was about to raise the alarm, and then stopped, and somewhat shaken, said to his fellow guard, “That was St. Catherine”. “I thought it was just an eccentric nun, with some animals” replied the fellow guard " You're sure are you are feeling alright?” The first guard decided not to pursue the subject, but he knew in his heart of hearts that it must be St. Catherine, because he had been allowed to see her invisible stigmata. “I wonder what’s happening?” he asked himself. His reverie was interrupted by some American pilgrims wanting to know where the Papal Audience would be taking place. “Just over there; it’s the big modern white building” he said.
Meanwhile Catherine, and the animals were walking at a brisk pace across the Piazza Santa Marta, past the Tribunal Palace on their left, the delightful little Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini on their right, and then they found themselves in front of the Vatican station. “Oh are we going on a train?” asked a delighted Dolly. “At this breakneck speed” said Hans, “ we will certainly need a train; at least we will be going fast without any effort. I feel quite exhausted already.” “Oh, I thought the pace most delightful and such a nice breeze” remarked Methuselah.”That’s because you’re sitting on my shoulder” the bear replied. You might be wondering why the celestial bear was feeling tired? The reason is quite simple, because on Earth, they feel as if they are earthly; at least some of the time.
The company now turned right and within a few minutes were at the front door of the monastery of Mater Ecclesiae. There at the door was Pope Benedict’s cat Contessina (Benedict does not simply love cats, according to Cardinal Mahoney, he adores them!), looking just as though she was expecting the visitors.
“Oh, I’m so pleased that you have come. I was so looking forward to meeting you all; especially cats from England. We meet very few cats here from England. I think the quarantine mentality is still strong in your country, but I do not think that it is so much of aproblem these days with the channel tunnel, but I did hear of a boy in Russia who got rabies only recently. Oh the Russian Siberian cats are so marvellous. Ah, do I spy one here? They are ravishing.” O Belissimo.”
Apart from St. Catherine, all the animals, even the celestial ones were reduced to silence by Contessina’s volley of statements in her wonderful Italian accent. Bushy looked almost bashful about Contessina’s reference to his possible Russian pedigree.
“Now come with me. His Holiness has got some special treats for you.” continued Contessina. “But how does he know?” asked Beppe. “Oh that’s so easy to explain. St. Francis told him” Contessina replied. Before anyone else could get involved in the conversation, the door opened and there was Pope Benedict. The cats were absolutely besides themselves with delight, and rushed up to him, and nuzzled him, and tried to climb up his white soutane, and the noise of purring, squeaking, and miaowing was amazing.
“My dear cats, I was so looking forward to seeing you. Only yesterday St. Francis came to see me and told me all about your special mission, which sounds very extraordinary, very wonderful. In such strange times as these, strange things happen. I have always had great faith in you cats. You are wise, and independent in your thinking, and there is not much of those gifts around these days is there?” If Pope Benedict adores cats, our cats simply adored him. Looking at them with great affection he continued “Now let us go into the living room, and have some refreshment. I don’t think anyone else in the Vatican will think of giving you anything to eat. You know what people are like, they sometimes forget, when they are very busy, that animals have to eat, and not at the same time as we humans.”
Benedict led them into a delightful room, and there were eight bowls all filled with different foods, all delightful, and not so different from their usual fare, but more exotic. “Oh your Holiness this is just perfect” purred Lizzie. “Is it German cat food?” “I’ve never really looked” replied Pope Benedict. “You know the Germans make the very best cat food imaginable. It’s what the hermits give us” said Lily, “And they get it on the Internet. “Well Sister Colette does” added Dolly. “Sister Colette is an anchorite, you know, and she also helps us with her herbal remedies, which have a lot in common with St. Hildergard’s you know.” said Molly in her velvety tones. “Well how very interesting” said Pope Benedict “As I said we live in very strange times.” He said this not in the way that a middle class Englishmen would say it, which usually means that they are not remotely interested in what you are saying. Pope Benedict really was interested.
The Pope then said “Now I hope that you don’t mind, but I am going to sit down.” No sooner than he had sat down than all the cats tried to sit on his lap. However as Bushy was utterly determined to sit on the Pope’s lap, the others had to give way, but Tommy was happy, he could continue licking the Pope’s hand with great enthusiasm. “Now St. Catherine, how rude of me, I should have given you a seat, and dear me, I must be losing all my manners, and my sense of sight. I had not realized that there were other animals here.” said the Pope. “That is not surprising your Holiness, because they are celestial animals, but one you must surely know.” Catherine said. “Of course, it’s St. Corbinian’s bear.” exclaimed the Pope. With that St. Catherine introduced the other animals. “It’s all quite wonderful” continued the Pope “Because when I was the Pope proper, I had so little time to enjoy the company of animals. I have all my cats now, and now I have all these cat visitors, and all these marvellous animals, and all who had important roles to play in the lives of the saints. We humans can be very one sided in our view of creation, don’t you think?” he asked. “Yes indeed ” replied a beautiful voice in the corridor, and a moment later there was St. Hildegard of Bingen. “Good Heavens” said the Pope, “another lovely surprise!”. “No two lovely surprises” Hildegard continued, and appearing behind her was St. Colette, who was much taller than St. Hildergard, though you would think St. Hildegard would be very tall, because of her tremendous visionary qualities. “And this is St. Colette”. The Pope clapped his hands in delight. “Well I am having a wonderful morning” he said.
By this time the other animals were looking somewhat left out. Pope Benedict being a man of exquisite good manners realized this, and beckoned them over to be with him. There was a largish sofa next to his chair and he beckoned Hans to sit down, and Grigio got on the sofa besides Hans, and Lorenzo sat at the Pope’s feet, and the Pope made a fuss of him, and so everyone was happy. Beppe climed up the back of his chair, and Methuselah flew around the room whistling the tune of the "The Blue Danube", most probably because he did not know any tunes fromt the Rhenish symphony, which of course was written by the German composer, Schumann. So the Blue Danube was the nearest river he could think of.
The Pope, then addressing the cats, said “Well what can I do for you?” “Well” said Lizzie “we felt that Pope Francis might be helped by our observations on the present state of things in the Church, and in the World, because the higher up you are, often you can see a lot of some things and nothing of others.” “That’s very true” noted the Pope said. “When you were Pope Benedict XVI, your Holiness was very prudent, and yet you got attacked by the media, and the Holy Father Pope Francis says exactly what he thinks off the cuff, and gets attacked within the Church. It’s a no win situation, but what we cats feel is that there is so little humility in the Church. Everyone wants to be somebody and no-one wants to be anybody, just like Don Alhambra’s aria in “The Gondoliers”. Do you think we should sing it to the Holy Father?” Lizzie asked with her lovely eyes gazing adoringly at Pope Benedict. He smiled wrily and said “Well oddly for an Argentinian, his tastes are really rather German. He loves Wagner among other things, so I am not quite sure how Gilbert and Sullivan would go down, but I am sure it would cheer him up, after all he loves Mozart, who had a great sense of comedy. It’s very difficult being Pope, and the strain is immense, especially when you are elected when old, as both of us have been, but that’s up to God, is it not?”
The Cats all looked very solemn. And in the silence St. Colette spoke up. “When I was an anchorite, I had terrible visions for three days. In those three awful days I saw souls falling to Hell, like leaves in Autumn. I saw the sins of rulers, and peoples, and I saw the sins and the evils in the Church. The horrors of those days stayed with me for the rest of my earthly life. I have never experienced anything else like it, and God so often allowed the Devil to come and taunt me. I know what the Holy Father is trying to do in the time allotted to him. He is trying to preach the love and mercy of God, but when he talks of these things, people forget that he also talks about Hell, sin and the Devil. We who lived our lives on earth solely to do God’s will, know that the demands of God are great. The Church seems to us, who are in Heaven, to be too caught up with the things of the World. The clergy and the laity too easily fall in love with the World, which is understandable, for as St. Francis has said with regard to the Devil, the world was a battle field, but with regard to God it was “ a very bright image of his goodness”. The wonderful things of creation were a ladder to God for St. Francis....” Suddenly a voice interrupted St. Colette’s reflection. The voice was full of sunlight and laughter, and there was St. Francis himself. He was glowing with light. Lorenzo jumped up from his position at the Pope’s feet, and put his paws on Francis’s shoulders, while vigorously licking him.
“Ah this is all together too wonderful” said the Benedict with all the glee and innocence of a child. “Yes” replied St. Francis, “ It is wonderful that we are here, but the times are urgent beyond belief. We must all of us pray that the human race returns to God, for the World has been infected and so degraded by the spirit of the West, which wants to sit on the throne of God, and devise its own laws, its own morals, and its own way of doing things, and will not follow God with obedience, humility and love. Men and women are guided by Pride. They do not want to follow the Poor Crucified Christ. They do not want to follow the Way of the Cross. They do not wish to share his life, to suffer his wounds.” When St. Francis said “wounds”, his feet and his hands blazed with light, so much so that the wounds of his stigmata looked like rubies surrounded by golden fire.
The cats all felt the most wonderful peace as they looked at St. Francis’ hands. Dolly broke the silence and said “Can we kiss your wounds, please” . St. Francis looking with solemnity and great gentleness at her, said “My little one, I must say no, for the wounds that you should kiss are the wounds of Christ My Lord, only those are worthy of such reverence.” The peace became stronger, and it seemed it was an age before anyone spoke.
St. Hildegard finally broke the silence and said. “Before our dear cats go to their other important meetings, shall we go and see the new Statue of St. Michael?” “Oh yes please!” cried all the cats. Bushy, who was the most observant of cats, tactfully said “I think his Holiness looks a bit tired”, which was absolutely true, because the Pope Emeritus,had momentarily dozed off , but when he heard his name mentioned, he promptly woke up. “How bad mannered of me. I do apologize, but it has all been so exciting”. Just at that moment the sisters, who look after the Pope, arrived, and were surprised to find the room full of cats, but the celestial animals, and the saints were invisible to them. “What have we here your Holiness?” “Just some feline visitors from England” “From England?” the sisters said in unison. “From England, how very odd.” What the sisters could not see ,as the cats one by one said goodbye to Pope Benedict, was the departure of the saints and the celestial animals. The Pope waved a hand of farewell to the Heavenly visitors, and then stroked the cats before he got up and said to them. “Well it has been such a delightful visit, and I will pray that your great mission is a success” The sisters looked at the Pope as if he were going mad, and then at each other with that look of quiet concern, as when an elderly grandmother or grandfather is showing signs of senility.
The cats finally left the Pope’s presence and ran after the others, who had just passed through the monastery door and were standing in the bright November sunshine gazing at the Dome of St. Peter, which seemed dulled by a strange and disquieting darkness. “Aha” said St. Francis, “I see that the Devil is up to his old tricks.”
“I wonder what St. Michael has up his sleeve?” said St. Colette. “More than his opponents will have bargained for” replied St. Hildergard. The cats ran ahead of the other animals, who decided to take a rest and glide after them, that way Hans would not get too tired.