Signs of the Times

Neighbors Describe Pope as Humble Cat Lover

Since the papal election on April 19, tidbits have begun trickling out from those who came to know Pope Benedict the man, as distinguished from the theologian. "I like him more than Wojtyla [Pope John Paul II]. Maybe that’s because I knew him," said Carla, who preferred not to give her last name, saying she had been inundated with requests from reporters hungry for details. As co-owner of a fruit and vegetable shop in Borgo Pio, the tiny Rome neighborhood just east of the Vatican where then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lived before moving to the Apostolic Palace, Carla saw the future pope pass by nearly every day on his afternoon walk.

This pope is more intelligent, where the other was more instinctive; he drew forth passion. This one is more rationalbut he is delightful. The fact that he’s timid endeared him to all of us, she said as she trimmed endive and served bananas to a customer.


Angelo Mosca runs an electrical supply shop in the Borgo, the shorthand that longtime residents use to refer to the area, filled with apartment buildings dating back to the 17th century and small, family-run stores, cafes and restaurants. Cardinal Ratzinger used to come to buy light bulbs and batteries or ask for a minor repair, and I went to his house many times to fix something or other, said Mosca. He is an exceptional person, with an indescribable humility.

About five years ago Mosca, on one of his repair visits to the then-cardinal’s fourth-floor apartment, brought along some documentation regarding miracles by a monk who worked with Padre Pio da Pietralcina. He listened to me with the greatest kindness. The professor was listening to his student as if the student was the professor, said Mosca.

For years, Mosca and his staff predicted Cardinal Ratzinger would one day be elected pope. I used to joke with him, Now I’ll give you discounts, and then when you’re pope I’ll come knock on your door,’ he said.

After the election, as people sought to uncover the man behind the doctrine, Pope Benedict’s relationship with cats seemed to become as important as his relationship with cardinals. Story after story recounted his love of felines, some implying he had a veritable menagerie at home.

Ingrid Stampa, the pope’s housekeeper and editorial assistant for 14 years, finally spoke out to deny that he owned a cat. Instead, Pope Benedict apparently fed strays that lurked around his building, and according to his brother Georg’s housekeeper in Germany, the two possess a collection of decorative cat plates there.

A Knight Ridder news story on April 21 also reported that the new pope loves cats. The story quotes a theologian who said he accompanied then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to a church near St. Peter’s Basilica where Masses are said in German. After celebrating Mass, the cardinal went to the cemetery behind the church to visit the many cats who lived there. It was full of cats, Konrad Baumgartner told Knight Ridder, and when he went out, they all ran to him. They knew him and loved him.... His love for cats is quite famous.

Two animal welfare groups, the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, gave Pope Benedict XVI high marks for his previous comments about the care of animals. The Humane Society, in a news release on April 20, noted that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had said in a German press interview last year that animals must be respected as companions in creation.

In the interview, he said that while it is licit to use animals as food, we cannot just do whatever we want with them.... 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.

Pope Explains Why He Chose the Name Benedict

At the first general audience of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI sat in the full force of the spring sun, expressing again his awe and gratitude that God chose him to lead the Catholic Church. God, he said, surprised me first of all. He also shared with the public his reasons for choosing the name Benedict when he was elected pope on April 19.

I wanted to call myself Benedict XVI to bind myself to the venerated Pope Benedict XV, who guided the church in a troubled period because of the First World War. He was a courageous and authentic prophet of peace and worked with valiant courage first to prevent the drama of war and then to limit its nefarious consequences, he said.

In his footsteps, I want to place my ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony among individuals and peoples, deeply convinced that the great good of peace is, first of all, a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to invoke, safeguard and build day after day with the help of everyone, Pope Benedict said.

The second reason for choosing the name, he said, was to evoke the spirit of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism. In his prepared text, the pope had noted that St. Benedict is a co-patron of Europe along with Sts. Cyril and Methodius. In his Italian-language talk, he went off script to pay homage to Sts. Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein, who also are invoked as patrons of Europe and Italy.

Pope Benedict said the expansion of Benedictine monasticism had an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity over the whole continent.... St. Benedict is greatly venerated in Germany, particularly in Bavaria, my homeland; he is a basic point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the undeniable Christian roots of its culture and civilization, he said. Pope Benedict asked the saint to help us keep Christ firmly at the center of our existence. May he always have first place in our thoughts and in all our activities.

At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict led the crowd in singing the Lord’s Prayer, which got off to a rocky start with some prelates singing in Italian and the pope singing more strongly in Latin. He waved his arms like an orchestra conductor, getting everyone singing in unison in the same language.

Pope Pledges Dialogue to Serve Humanity

In his first meeting with representatives of other Christian communities and of other religions, Pope Benedict XVI pledged his pontificate would be marked by dialogue to promote truth and serve humanity. I assure you that the church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole, he said. The pope held an audience on April 25 for the 70 Christian representatives, seven Muslim delegates and 17 Buddhist representatives who had attended his installation on April 24. Jewish representatives missed the meeting because it was held during their Passover observance.

Former Board Members Say Pope Will Help

As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI expressed more interest in solving the U.S. clergy sex abuse crisis than many U.S. bishops and cardinals, said two former members of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board. They met the future pope in 2004 when he was head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Unlike many bishops and cardinals in the U.S.some who treated us with disdainhe wanted to hear what was going on in the United States, said Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne M. Burke. She was interim president of the review board when she and two other members visited with Cardinal Ratzinger at his Vatican office on Jan. 25, 2004. William R. Burleigh, another board member, said that the cardinal expressed a deep awareness and concern about the problem of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said he believes Pope Benedict XVI will help work to renew special norms in place in the United States for dealing with sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy.

Christian Organizations Unite to Fight Hunger

A variety of Christian groups and denominations are joining forces this year in an effort to combat domestic and world hunger. The effort will reach a visible point in Washington in early June with a conference on poverty and hunger at American University. Bread for the World, a Christian citizens’ antihunger lobby, and Call to Renewal, the public policy arm of Sojourners, are joining with several food banks and gleaners groups as well as other social justice organizations to co-sponsor the conference, which will end with an estimated 1,000 participants lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Catholic clergy, religious and lay leaders have already signed on to the effort. Among them are Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Policy; Benedictine Sister Christine Vladimiroff, prioress of her community in Erie, Pa., and president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; and Joseph Flannigan, national vice president of the Society of St. Vincent De Paul.

News Briefs

The head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee urged congressional conferees to kill legislation known as the Real I.D. Act, which has been attached to supplemental appropriations for the Iraq War. The provision would have extraordinarily harmful impacts on asylum seekers, immigrants and the nation, said Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., in a letter of April 25.

With tensions running high in Mexico over the government’s attempt to jail the leading candidate for the 2006 presidential election, a group of Mexican bishops criticized the government for trying to eliminate a political adversary. The bishops’ social affairs commission said on April 21 that President Vicente Fox’s government appeared to be using the federal justice system to keep Mexico City Mayor Andrés López Obrador off the ballots next year. López Obrador faces charges he disobeyed a court order over a minor land dispute, although the mayor denies the charges and claims the case was politically motivated.

Catholics are being urged to boycott eBay because the auction Internet site allowed a man from Iowa to offer for sale a Communion host purported to have been consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The host was later withdrawn by the seller and properly disposed of according to church law. Groups calling for the boycott contend that eBay should not have allowed the auction of an item sacred to Catholics. Hani Durzy, a spokeswoman for the company, which is based in San Jose, Calif., said the auction of the host was allowed, despite criticism prompted by the eBay listing, because it did not violate any federal, state or local laws and was not deemed hateful by the company. Groups backing the boycott include the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Ethiopian bishops urged citizens to vote in legislative elections on May 15, saying their participation helped fulfill their civic responsibility.

Muslim leaders welcomed a pledge by Pope Benedict XVI to work for closer interfaith dialogue and urged the new pontiff to encourage Catholic-Muslim initiatives. If prominent Muslims and Catholics were seen meeting, this would send a strong message to the world, said Ronald Shaheed, director of Masjid Sultan Muhammad in Milwaukee, Wis.

Pope Benedict XVI has dispensed with the image of the three-tiered tiara that traditionally appeared at the top of each pope’s coat of arms and replaced it with the pointed miter. The pope also has added the pallium, the woolen stole symbolizing a bishop’s authority, to the elements surrounding the shield.

The spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion said he is encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI’s commitment to Christian unity and believes his papacy will give special energy to a united Christian witness in an increasingly secularized Europe.

In the wake of violent street protests that led to the ouster of President Lucio Gutiérrez, the Ecuadoran bishops’ conference called for the new government to follow the law and the constitution completely and make every effort to return to the country the peace it needs for its development, while constantly listening to the longings of the people.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said he would be surprised if Pope Benedict XVI did not reform the church’s process for the World Synod of Bishops. Cardinal Mahony said that the way the pope, who was dean of the College of Cardinals, ran cardinals’ meetings before the conclave indicates he knows and understands how to get a real, representative exchange going. He certainly has heard enough over the years about the format and process of the synod, Cardinal Mahony said on April 22. It needs to be rethought, and there needs to be a way for far more interaction.

The Vatican created a special e-mail address so well-wishers can send a message to the new pope:

The ordination class of 2005 in the United States reflects an increase in the number of older and better educated priests and an increase in the number of those born in foreign countries, according to a report conducted by Dean Hoge, a sociologist at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Welcoming the election of Pope Benedict XVI, Jewish leaders said they expected him to continue his predecessor’s commitment to advancing Catholic-Jewish relations and hoped he would reaffirm the church’s teaching on Judaism even more forcefully.

The new pope, an excellent theologian, will value our church’s wealth of theology and spirituality and wish to cooperate with it and support theological dialogue, said Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians.

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