Prophecy buffs are all a-twitter over Pope Francis’s somewhat bungled doves-of-peace release this week. Was it, they wonder, a sign of apocalyptic times?
Just moments after Francis and the two children who assisted him let go of a pair of white doves, as part of their prayer for peace, the doves were dive-bombed by a black crow and a seagull. The Pope’s white dove of peace – the very symbol of the Holy Spirit – struck down by the evil black crow and his synthetic-white accomplice? Surely a message from above!
Indeed, for various ultra-conservative Catholics and other Christians who don’t like Francis’s “socialist” criticisms of our industrial civilization, the whole mini-drama demonstrated that the Pope himself must be the Antichrist of the end days.
The animal protection world was also quick to take to the air. Italy’s National Animal Protection Agency published an open letter reminding the Pope that domesticated doves are easy prey for predators like gulls. And a petition calling on the Vatican to stop holding dove release ceremonies quickly gathered close to 10,000 signatures. Hopes were high that he would move to right some of the Catholic Church sins of commission and omission against our fellow animals.
Unlike their gray pigeon cousins, white doves don’t exactly blend in with their surroundings. And birds raised in captivity, and then suddenly thrown out into the air with nowhere to hide, are a magnet for any larger bird looking for tasty treats – especially at a venue like the Vatican, where tourists are dropping food all day.
The crow and the gull probably saw the Pope and the two children as just another trio of humans throwing fast food around. The doves reportedly escaped this first encounter, but it’s hard to imagine they had a much brighter future after that.
For a pope who had taken the name Francis, hopes were high that he would move to right some of the Catholic Church sins of commission and omission against our fellow animals. At his Inaugural Mass, he said:
“It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.”
But the Catholic Church has a wretched record when it comes to animal protection. Most recently, and most horrifically, it has become deeply involved – indeed one of the key players – in the worldwide ivory trade.
Francis moved quickly to patch up the dove debacle, blessing a parrot named Amore as he moved through the crowds in St Peter’s Square a few days later.
But it would be good to see him include the Church’s relationship to our fellow animals, not just to humans, in his mission to clean up the institution he’s inherited.
A good place to start might be to reach out directly to animal protection groups and bring them in as advisors as to how we can truly “respect each of God’s creatures.”