A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Was John Paul II a Saint to the Animals?

Book tells of his dream about a homeless cat

A cat walks past Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

By Michael Mountain

Like many other mainstream churches, the Catholic Church has not traditionally been especially friendly toward animals. Most popes, for example, have been silent on the topic of bullfighting, and these events are often even held in honor of saints – for example in Valencia, Spain, where bulls are killed in honor of the Virgen de los Desemparados, or Virgin of the Helpless.

(An exception was Pius V, who, in 1567, declared bullfights to be “cruel and base spectacles of the devil.” And in the 1930s, Pius XII forbade priests from attending bullfights in Spain, and turned down a gift from the bullfighters’ union.)

Despite his silence on this topic, John Paul II frequently spoke of his concern for other animals. And in God’s Broker, a biography of the Pope published in 1984, author Anton Gronowicz wrote about a dream that John Paul recounted to him. (The book itself later came under suspicion and was withdrawn when the Vatican denied that Gronowicz had ever interviewed the Pope. But the controversy seemed largely to be about political statements ascribed to the Pontiff.)

Gronowicz tells of a dream that John Paul had in Canada the day before visiting New York in 1969, when he was still a cardinal. While the visit took place in summer, the dream was of being in the city in the depths of winter. Here it is, as told in the book:

It was a terribly severe winter in New York; the city was completely covered with snow. Inhabitants were well-off and warmly dressed, and walking slowly along roads because cars, due to mountains of snow, could not be operated. I was happy that I could walk on top of the snow on avenues of white.

All my physical effort was spent on walking. To this day, pictures of huge apartment houses on both sides of the avenue are instilled in my mind, and the doormen quickly closing and opening entrance doors as though trying to prevent humanity and warmth from escaping.

On top of the snow, I noticed a brown cat emerge from a side street and walk on the snow. I looked closer, and to my surprise, saw that this big cat was being followed by six small brown-and-white kittens, all of them following the big brown cat in a perfect line. The mother cat looked back from time to time to see if her babies were there, but her main concern was to reach the entrance door. I presumed she was trying to find warmth for herself and her children, but as soon as she reached the door, a man in a well-pressed uniform, jumped at her with a broom and chased them away. I followed this procession and prepared to deliver a speech to the doorman. I opened my mouth and tried to complain, ‘Where is your proverbial American generosity? Where is your American good heart and fair play? Let them in. Let them in!!

I tried to speak, but the words would not come out. Maybe I was afraid of the doorman with the broom. I started searching my cassock pockets for a piece of bread, found some crumbs and put them on my palms, calling: ‘Kitty, kitty, kitty.’ But the words would not come from my supposedly intelligent mouth. Instead, the wind blew the crumbs from my palm and I said, ‘what can I do? I can’t speak to the cats. I can’t speak to the doorman. But there are many hungry birds. They might pick up the crumbs.’

Again, I walked after the cats, now with a pain in my chest, feeling tremendous cold. On the left I saw a church building and thought,’ There we will find help.’ I heard singing and again, the idea occurred to me that it must be a Catholic church. The music grew louder, as though trying to convince God that they were praying to Him.

The mother cat jumped in front of me and climbed the stairs, followed by her kittens. I raised my head and saw a tall Jesuit priest chasing the cats off the steps. But as I was about to shout at the Jesuit ‘I am a cardinal!’ and give an order to accept the cats, the mother cat and her offspring ran behind the church, because from there came the appetizing aroma of food. Probably there was a kitchen there. But a second Jesuit appeared at the kitchen door and scared the cats away. They returned to the avenue and started walking north.

They walked on the same side of the avenue as the Jesuit church and I followed. Then they reached an imposing red brick church. An Anglican bishop appeared and said to the cats, ‘My dear animal children, please go immediately to the animal shelter. There is food for you there. We Anglican clergy donate lots of money to the animal shelter, every year, at Christmas time.’

The mother cat and her kittens didn’t even meow. They knew the authoritative voice of the Anglican bishop. They walked uptown and gradually the luxurious buildings disappeared, together with the doormen, and we saw drab dilapidated apartments.

As they walked and the buildings grew shabbier and dirty, a door was opened, not by a doorman but by an old wrinkled woman in a cotton dress. [She saw the cats] and shouted ‘Oh, little mother,’ and when she opened her mouth I saw she had few teeth. She gently ushered the mother cat and kittens inside, who jumped happily about because the warmth of the house embraced them.”

Gronowicz added this about the Pope when he finished describing his dream: “I had never seen such a sad expression on the face of this man.”