Pope Francis has very strong views on pets and children, neither of which he has. But that didn’t stop him from weighing in on their insignificance and the character of their guardians.
In early January, the supposedly progressive pontiff proclaimed that pet ownership (rather than parenthood) is selfish and “takes away our humanity,” according to The New York Times.
“And so civilization becomes aged and without humanity, because it loses the richness of fatherhood and motherhood,” he continued. “And our homeland is suffering, because it has no children.”
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His Holiness has no pets, remaining faithful to his preaching. But his position is not shared by many of his predecessors, ranging from the Renaissance to the modern era, who adopted animals. Even fictional Pope Pius XIII, played by Jude Law in HBO’s ‘The Young Pope’, had a connection to his kangaroo, introduced by Australia’s foreign minister. Whether animals were exotic gifts or chosen domestic companions, a veritable menagerie has been wholeheartedly embraced by their rightful Holy Fathers over the centuries.
Not only that, but caring for animals is seen as a gesture of power when it comes to popes. According to the New York Times, Italian historian and author Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, author of the 1994 novel “Il corpo del papa” (“The Pope’s Body”), animals were used “to create and confirm authority and sovereignty” of the papacy. In short, pets were symbols of great power and dominance.
Let’s take a look at some of the most famous pet-loving Popes and their companions.
Pope Benedict XVI and his cats
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (2005 – 2013), widely known for his love of cats, is the proud owner. There’s Chico – a black-and-white domestic shorthair – Contessina and the many other stray felines that roamed the Pope’s former residence in the Vatican. In 2008, Chico was even featured in the children’s “autobiography” titled “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI Told by a Cat”, which was authorized by Pope Benedict and the Vatican Press.
“Whenever he met a cat he would talk to it, sometimes for a long time… The cat would follow him,” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in a 2005 Daily Telegraph article. followed into the Vatican, and one of the Swiss Guards intervened saying, ‘Look, Your Eminence, the cats are invading the Holy See.'”
Pope Pius XII and his goldfinch
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) and his beloved goldfinch, Gretel, became an inseparable duo after the pope rescued her from the Vatican gardens. The tiny bird, which suffered from a wing injury, joined the Pope for dinners after his recovery and provided him with company while he worked late into the evening. She was often seen resting on Pope Pius’ fingertip or on his shoulders – her two favorite places.
The pope also housed a herd of canary companions and was even known to treat insects in the Vatican Gardens with nothing but care and compassion.
Pope Leo XIII and his collection of creatures
During his pontificate, Pope Leo XIII (1878 – 1903) kept ostriches, deer, goats and African gazelles in the Vatican gardens. He let the gazelles roam free, which was a risky move considering one gazelle managed to jump on the pope. Even in the face of danger, Pope Leo kept his cool and joked, “Did you really think a gazelle could defeat a lion?
Sadly, the pope’s successor, Pope Pius X, did not share his love for animals or gardens and ended the traditions of the papal menagerie.
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Pope Leo X’s Elephant
Pope Leo’s elephant, Hanno, could perform an assortment of tricks and dances on command. Although elephants are an unconventional choice for a pet these days, Hanno was revered as a show and became a symbol of greatness. The elephant, given to Pope Leo X (1513-1521) by King Manuel I of Portugal, featured in paintings, sculptures, poems, fountains, ceramics and other works of art.
Pope Pius II and his dog
While in Siena, Tuscany, the Renaissance Pope (1458 – 1464) wrote of the beautiful countryside landscapes and natural spectacles of his hometown. He also wrote stories about his pooch, Musetta.
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