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Pope Francis says Benedict XVI “knew the language of cats”


© Servizio Fotografico | L’Osservatore Romano

Cyprien Viet - published on 04/06/24

In his latest book-interview, in addition to revelations on subjects such as the 2005 conclave, Pope Francis fondly remembers Benedict XVI's love of cats.

In El Sucesor (“The Successor”), a book-interview with Spanish Vaticanist Javier Martínez-Brocal published in Spanish on April 3, Pope Francis explains that he met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on several occasions when he himself was called to Rome as a bishop and then as a cardinal, notably during the 1994 Synod on Consecrated Life and the 2001 Synod on Episcopal Collegiality, for which he was Assistant General Relator.

He recounts an endearing anecdote about Cardinal Ratzinger, whom he sometimes met in St. Peter’s Square. “I remember him in this neighborhood, walking towards his house wearing a beret and surrounded by cats. I think he knew the language of cats, it was impressive. He spoke to them, and they understood him and guided him,” recalls Francis.


The fond memory of Bishop Xuereb

Benedict XVI’s love of cats is well known. Archbishop Alfred Xuereb, who was assistant private secretary to the German pontiff secretariat from 2007 to 2013, recounted several interesting anecdotes about the German pope’s passion for felines in his memoir My days with Benedict XVI, published in 2023. 

In it, he recalls the publication in 2007 of Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told By a Cat, a children’s book written by journalist Jeanne Perego, retracing the life of the German pope through the eyes of his faithful ginger cat.

Archbishop Xuereb writes:

While we were at table, the pope spoke to us about the pleasant meetings he has had with the author of this book for children, and he revealed to us that, when he was cardinal, he thought of writing a book on cats once he retired. It was a dream that obviously has remained in the drawer. He commented, ‘The irony of fate: Instead of me speaking about cats, it is the neighbor’s cat that speaks about me!’ We had a great laugh.

In his memoir, Archbishop Xuereb also recounts with amusement and tenderness Benedict XVI’s attitude towards a stuffed cat placed near the window of a corridor leading to his room, and which sometimes received a few caresses and kind words from the Pope.

The love that the pope has toward cats is such that even the stuffed cat, resting on a windowsill in the corridor that leads to his room, frequently receives a pat from the Holy Father and at times even a gentle passing comment!

The Holy Father loves all animals — the more intelligent they are, the more he loves them —and he is especially enamored by their gestures. I eventually discovered that when he watches television, he is even delighted with advertisements that depict dogs and cats.

“Treat other living beings with care.”

Pope Francis, for his part, made news when he warned against using animals as an emotional substitute for human relationships. “Yes, it is funny, I understand, but it is the reality. And this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity,” he said at the general audience on January 5, 2022, prompting a variety of reactions. The role played by cats in certain child-deprived societies, notably Japan, corroborates his analysis.


In his encyclical Laudato si’, Francis offers a wide-ranging reflection on the care of animals as part of God’s creation, inviting us in particular, in paragraph 211, to show “care for other living beings.”

“God has written a precious book, ‘whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe,’” he writes poetically in paragraph 85, quoting Pope St. John Paul II

And, just as his predecessor had done with a lion cub during a general audience in January 2009, Pope Francis awakened his childlike soul by stroking a young tiger during the Jubilee of Circus Performers on June 16, 2016, at the Vatican.

AnimalsPope Benedict XVIPope Francis
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