Pope Benedict is well known as a cat lover. As Cardinal Ratzinger he used to feed the strays of Rome and as Pope he has kept two cats in the Vatican. During his recent visit to the UK he had an unexpected encounter with Pushkin, the Birmingham Oratory cat.
Fr Richard Duffield, Provost of Birmingham Oratory and Actor for the cause of Blessed John Henry Newman, was responsible for the logistics of the beatification ceremony. He said that the event and the entire Papal visit was a great success, as he expected it would be, despite “the sound and fury” beforehand. He was particularly moved by seeing his parishioners from the Oratory receive communion from the Pontiff. Cardinal Newman was founder of the Birmingham Oratory and seeing the Pope in prayer in Newman’s room made a lasting impression, he enthused. The Pontiff toured the church, praying at Blessed John Henry Newman's shrine and in his private room, and met the staff and community. Fr Richard presented him with a rosary that had belonged to Cardinal Newman in a box made especially by carpenter John Leather, a parishioner of the Oxford Oratory.
Fr Duffield was also responsible for ensuring that the Pope met a very important member of the Birmingham community. After private prayer in Cardinal Newman's room the Pope descended in a lift. As the door opened, right on cue, he heard a cat mewing, and looked pleasantly surprised. The Provost ran after the Vatican TV crew and photographer who were exiting down the road and they rushed back to record the historic encounter.
Fr Anton Guziel, one of the community, went and fetched the half Persian black cat into the papal presence. The Pope was delighted to meet the cat sporting the Papal colours, with a yellow and white ribbon about his neck. He inquired as to Pushkins' age - he is ten years old – and told the delighted feline in German, that he was very pretty. Pushkin extended a paw to the Pope who took it smilingly. He stroked him under the chin and tickled his ears whilst Fr.Anton held him. According to Fr Anton, Pushkin maintained “a dignified and prayerful silence”, throughout the encounter. The priest bought the cat with him two years ago when he joined the community and Pushkin has settled in as the Oratory cat, greeting visitors and maintaining a correspondence with Princess Michael, another noted cat lover.
Since the Pope's visit, Fr Anton says Pushkin has gained “hairs and graces!” Pushkin now expects to be placed on the Papal Christmas card list!
To view a television report on the meeting see: www.itv.com/central-west/catholic-cat02207/