THE CATHOLIC HERALD DECEMBER 22, 2006
‘How different it was from my native village’
‘Reclining on a large foot was a domestic long-hair’
A tabby cat’s tale for Christmas
During a recent dig in Umbria a mysterious manuscript was unearthed. It is believed to date from the 13th century. Because of its great age many of the words are illegible. What now follows, therefore, is a translation that may be partly, or totally, inaccurate. By Fr John Chaloner
My name is Cocco. I am a Church Cat and I live in the little village of Greccio that nestles in a valley not far from Assisi. What a lot of fuss and bother there has been in our village of late! Rumours fly here and there; people pretend to know nothing, when they obviously know something, small groups gather in alleyways and move off as soon as you approach. Even animals and birds do the same. Sheep huddle in corners and look at you disdainfully as they trot off, other cats ignore you, and geese attack you. It’s all very odd. Recently, I was talking to my friend, Miagolo, about this state of affairs and he offered some good advice. “It’s like this,” he said. “People around here know that something big is going to happen. Some know what it is, others pretend they know what it is, but no one wants anyone else to think that they don’t know what it is. Of course, I know what it is, as I am a venerable and wise cat. If I tell you what it is, don’t let anyone think you know. Pretend to know nothing.” “Thank you,” I said. “I’ll do as you say.” “ Prego ,” he replied. “What’s going to happen is this: Francis of Assisi is coming here at Christmas and he’s arranged for a crib to be erected –just like the stable in
which Jesus was born. Of course, the big question is: who is to be invited to this major event? It’s causing a lot of ill-feeling, I can tell you. Why, just listen to those two over there.” He directed my attention to a nearby field where an ass and a cow were complaining bitterly. “After all,” said Asfodelo the ass, “everyone knows there was an ass in the stable where Jesus was born, but I haven’t been invited. I’m quite put out by it.” “So am I,” agreed Margheritina the cow. “Cattle were there too, you know.” “How upsetting,” I observed. “But tell me,” I asked Miagolo, “Why have only some residents of our village been invited? Surely Francis would want all of us to be there?” Miagolo purred in agreement. “Of course he would. But he’s not the one who decides, is he? Those in charge are the ones who decide and they want only a select number to be invited. It’s all to do with ‘cut-backs’ and ‘cost-effective strategies’ –so I’ve heard.” “This cannot be right,” I replied. “Jesus says that when we have a party we are to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. I would have thought that the same principle applies here. Is there no higher authority to whom we could appeal?”
Miagolo stretched out his front paws and sat down. He said something, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was as he was licking his left paw and then washing the back of his ears. “I didn’t quite catch that,” I said. “Were you talking about ‘hope’ and ‘bats’?” “Not at all!” he snapped. “I said that you could appeal to the Pope or have a word with
his cats.” “The Pope or his cats?” I exclaimed. “How could I speak to the Pope or his cats?” “You could go to Rome and ask to see them,” he replied. “You can’t expect me to travel that far as I am a senior cat, but you are a young cat and the exercise would do you good. In fact, as you are a Church Cat a pilgrimage to Rome would be most fitting.”
‘Francis of Assisi is coming here at Christmas’
“And how, may I ask, would I get to Rome? I don’t know the way.” “All roads lead to Rome,” he replied brightly. “So you can’t go far wrong.” And so it was that I set off on my pilgrimage. I journeyed most of the night and slept most of the day. After many adventures, which I shall relate in another manuscript, I arrived in Rome. ( Translator’s
note: This other manuscript has not been found. If it is found, don’t expect me to translate it. This one is more than enough. ) How different it was from my native village! All hustle and bustle and in all the ancient ruins –cats, hundreds of us! I was now very tired and hungry but I was determined to put my request before the Pope, or his cats.
All pictures by Fr John Chaloner
But how was I to find his cats among so many? Reclining on a large foot – the remains of an old statue near the Colosseum –was a domestic long-hair, mainly white but with a black patch above her left eye and black along her back and tail. “Hello,” she said. “What’s your name?” “I’m Cocco and I am a Church Cat.” “I am Signorina Machiavetti,” she replied. “By a strange coincidence, I too am a Church Cat. What are you doing here? Are you a tourist?” “No. I’m a pilgrim and I’ve come to see the Pope –or his cats –and to ask a favour for our village.” Then I told her all about the goings on in Greccio and explained that I wanted to ask the Pope to allow all the village residents to be present when Francis of Assisi blessed the crib on Christmas night. “Your request seems very reasonable,” she said. “Follow me.” I followed her along the narrow streets until at length we arrived in front of an enormous church, bigger than any I had seen, with crowds gathered everywhere. “This is St Peter’s,” she said. “It’s always like this during the day. Keep close to me. I know my way in and out of here like the back of my paw.” No one attempted to stop us as we trotted along. On the
contrary, doors were opened for us. Eventually we entered a room in which a cat was curled up asleep on the knee of a man. “Signorina Machiavetti!” the man exclaimed. “There you are! I haven’t seen you for hours.” “This is the Holy Father,” Machiavetti whispered. “Go and tell him why you are here.” How was I to tell him? I sat and stared hard at him. The Holy Father stretched out his hand towards me and smiled. Then a thought struck me: “I’ll do what all cats do when they want to tell people something. I’ll wrap myself around his legs and purr.” And that is what I did. “Ah, piccino ! Have food, milk and whatever you need,” he said kindly, and with that he blessed me. Many weeks later I arrived back at Greccio. It was Christmas Eve. Something wonderful had happened! A stable had been built and gathered inside were my friends: Miagolo, Asfodelo, and Margheritina. Francis of Assisi had brought together the whole village to praise and thank God for inviting us all to rejoice in the birth of his Son.
Miss Mac: The Church Cat and Ko-Ko: the Church Cat Who Found Love by Fr John Chaloner are published by Redemptorist Publications, priced £4.95 each
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