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Religion and Animals
Pope John Paul II weighed in on the side of animals having souls....
This quote pertaining to our House of Bishops statement at
the view of the conflicting messages of the Bible that are used to defend
anyone's point-of-view, to frame any agenda-of-choice, etc.
important affirmation of John Paul II has raised a great clamour all round
The Pope Has Said:During a public audience the Holy Father affirmed that
the animals, like men, were given the 'breath of life' by God. The Vatican
squarely confronted this concept for the first time. At the Pope's
statement, Monsignor Canciani, who welcome dogs and cats into his Church
in Rome, said he had "experienced a great joy. Now I sincerely hope that
other priests will follow my example.."
"Animals Too Have Souls,
by Mimmo Pacifici
Rome, January 1990
Translated by Piera Smith from Genre Magazine and
Man/Nature/Animals, January 1990.
"When the Pope stated that 'also the animals possess a soul and that
men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren', I felt
greatly moved. At last my work for the world of animals had been rewarded.
I have welcomed my parishioners into Church for Mass accompanied by their
dogs, cats and other faithful animal friends for a number of years because
I have long recognized the justice in maintaining that all God's creatures
have the right to approach their Creator. My decision has at times caused
controversy. But now that the Holy Father has affirmed that the animals
are as "near to God as men are", those people who have criticized me must
surely change their opinion."
The speaker is Monsignor Canciani, 60 years old, Vicar of the Roman
Church, San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, already well-known the world over for
having opened his church doors to animals and because he also specially
blesses them together with his parishioners twice a year. Monsignor
Canciani is happy because in a homily given at the Vatican during a recent
weekly audience the Pope made a number of important statements about the
creation of animals and their relationship with men and with God. The
Pontiff in fact stated that all animals are "fruit of the creative action
of the Holy Spirit and merit respect."
So what did the Holy Father actually say about animals, and why are
these words considered to be so important? Let us read together extracts
from his homily.
John Paul II quoting from several verses of Genesis spoke of the Divine
creative action of the Holy Spirit and said: "...in the account of the
Creation, the way in which man was created suggests a relationship with
the spirit or 'breath' of God. And one reads that after having created man
from the dust of the earth, the Lord God "breathed life into his nostrils
and man became a living soul".
The Holy Scriptures thereby make clear that God intervened by means of
His breath of life or Spirit to make man a living soul. In man there is
the "breath of life" which came from the "breath" of God Himself. In him
lives breath which is similar to the very breath of God.
Then the Pontiff spoke of the creation of the animals and said: "In
Genesis, Chapter 2, where there is reference to the creation of the
animals, there is not given a similar account of their relationship with
the divine spirit of God as is given of that relationship with man. From
the previous chapter we learn that "Man was created in the image and
likeness of God".
THE DIVINE SPARK OF LIFE
"However, other texts state that
animals have the breath of life and were given it by God. In this respect
man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living
creatures. And so in Psalm 103* there is no distinction between man and
beasts when it reads, addressing God: "...These wait all upon thee; that
thou mayest give them their meat** in due course. That thou givest them,
they gather: thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good."
The psalmist continues: "Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou
takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest
forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the
earth." The existence therefore of all living creatures depends on the
living spirit/breath of God that not only creates but also sustains and
renews the face of the earth."
This affirmation of the Pontiff has aroused enormous interest the world
over and has overjoyed many thousands of Catholics who for many years have
been deeply concerned that the Church should reiterate and give back to
animals the proper respect and moral dignity due to the animal world which
is often discriminated against and long been considered inferior to that
"This discourse by Pope Wojtyla is very important and significant"
explains the distinguished theologian Carlo Molari who for many years has
been Professor of Theology and Dogma at the University of Urbino. "It is a
'sign of the times' because it demonstrates the Church's desire and deep
concern to clarify present confused thinking and attitudes towards the
animal kingdom. There should be no need, but the Pontiff in reiterating
that the animals came into being because of the direct action of the
"breath" of God wanted to say that also these creatures as well as man are
possessed of the divine spark of life and that living quality that is the
soul. And are therefore not inferior beings or only of a purely
"If one goes on to contemplate that the
word "animal" is derived from that of 'anima' or soul, one understands, as
the Pope explains, that animals are indeed "touched" by the first
principle of life which is the Holy Spirit. But the intention of the Pope
when he defines the animals as being composed of both body and soul is not
only meant to convey their value in a metaphysical sense, but above all
also in a moral sense specifically that we must respect all the creatures
of God. Clearly therefore because the animal possesses the same "breath"
of life as man, men must demonstrate proper and total solidarity with the
creatures that surround him. He must keep in his mind that there is an
animal life around him and at the same time must try to love and respect
it. And perhaps the profound and true message of the Pontiff is that we
must live in close harmony, and with love towards animals and all of
nature surrounding us."
"However", concludes theologian Carlo Molari, "it must be restated that
there remains a distinction between the soul of an animal and that of man.
According to Scripture the animal is destined to perish. It is mortal by
definition, unlike man who continues his existence beyond earthly life. So
far as we understand now there is no possibility that we will find other
creatures in the Hereafter. However, it's one thing to expound according
to the theology and philosophy we have studied and quite another for us to
comprehend Divine reality--both future and distant--which remains
mysterious and difficult to grasp within our limited capabilities."
Having now listened to the views of a theologian interpreting in his
opinion John Paul II's declaration upon the great spiritual "communion"
between men and animals, let us turn again to Monsignor Canciani's words,
the priest who in his genuine concern for animals, had anticipated the
Church's new solidarity with our 'faithful friends'.
"Yes, the Pope's words made me very happy" says Monsignor Canciani, who
as well as actively assisting the needy in his parish, and helping
animals, is also a writer and member of the (Vatican) Council. "The words
strengthen even more my love for animals which for years I have welcomed
into my church together with the faithful. Just think, after the Pope
proclaimed publicly his own love of animals, I received hundreds of phone
calls from all over Italy. It was a wonderful experience: I would pick up
the receiver and at the other end of the line people would all be
complimenting me: "Did you hear, Monsignor? You were right all along! The
Pope has said we must all love animals. That they too have souls and
belong to God just like men. We do hope now that in our own parish too we
will be able to take our animals to Church. It would be wonderful to be
able to pray with them beside us." In fact I was on the phone all day and
at last I was able to answer that single question that everyone kept
asking. The Pope had made it easy for me when he had affirmed that man
must live in solidarity with animals, because to live in community with
them is the first principle of existence. And now that the Catholic Church
officially is showing herself more attentive to the needs of animals, lots
of small memories come crowding in on me, that day after day had impressed
themselves upon me and increased my respect for the animals which often
save the lives of human beings."
"I remember for example, the story of an old lady, who living alone in
the solitude of her home, to keep loneliness and sadness at bay, had
depended strongly on the love and friendship of a little white dog, old
like herself and rather worn. One day the old lady, no longer able to care
for herself had been forced to enter a Hospice. With her suitcase and the
little dog in her arms she presented herself at the door of the Hospice.
But of course dogs were not allowed in the Hospice and the old lady became
terribly upset. She cried and despaired and would not be parted from her
faithful friend who had shared so many years of her life. Finally knowing
my love for animals she decided to phone me to ask for help. I rushed
immediately over to the Hospice and tried hard to calm her telling her
that I would look after her dog and we would both visit her together
frequently. However, day after day the situation got worse. Both the dog
and the old lady, not able to accept the situation seemed to want only to
die. The little dog pined in my study, refusing food and whining. The old
lady sat alone in dignified silence while her health visibly deteriorated.
So I finally decided to talk to the Director of the Hospice. "Does it seem
right to you that two creatures who love each other and are reaching the
last few years of their lives should be made to cruelly suffer in this
way? Why not, in the name of love can't we ignore the regulations". After
much heart- searching the Director allowed the little dog to be returned
to its owner. I can never forget the expression of pure joy on the woman's
face when she saw her little dog again and knew she could keep him once
more. It is written in the Bible that "God exists not only in man but in
everything that lives." And I, seeing the happiness of those two reunited,
understood that animals also do have souls, an interior tension with which
they interact with God and with men."
"When did you decide to open the door of your Church to animals?"
"It was a spontaneous decision that sprang from mature reading of the
Scriptures which teach that Jesus dying redeemed not only man but the
whole of creation: and therefore animals too. I still remember clearly the
very first time that, assailed with many doubts, I decided to let a dog
enter the Church for a religious ceremony. Two of my older parishioners
asked me to celebrate a Mass for their 25th wedding anniversary and rather
tentatively the asked whether not only all their family and friends but
their dog also, could participate in the celebration as a kind of very
affectionate member of the family. 'Without our dog, it would seem as
though our family were not complete and that in fact we would not all
really be united for such an important celebration.'
"I thought about this strange proposition for some time before I agreed
to their request. And it was a most beautiful and solemn ceremony. It was
most moving to see, close to the children, cousins, nephews and nieces of
the couple, that quiet gentle animal, waiting patiently with the family. I
understood that their dog represented symbolically to the congregation the
qualities of friendship and faithfulness of those two people which, among
other things, had kept the couple lovingly together."
AN INFALLIBLE METHOD
"From that experience I opened my
Church to animals, and people can enter whenever they wish with their
faithful friends, not only during a private arrangement but whenever they
come to confess or take part in the Holy Mass. And I now bless animals and
their owners twice a year during a special Mass because all creatures have
the right to feel loved by God and be near Him."
"I have also learned to make use of the sensitivity and love animals
have for people to solve the most disparate and desperate cases. I have
helped back to happy everyday life many cases of drug dependency when the
addicts could find no way out of the tunnel, as well as both old and young
people who have been through periods of deep depression and feelings of
worthlessness unable to find any sense in their lives. I have been able to
do this with an infallible method which I now always use: I present myself
at their door with a kitten or puppy in my arm together with a small bag
of food for the creature. I knock and ask: "Can you do me an enormous
favour? I have to leave and won't be back for a week. There's no-one who
can look after this little animal. Can you possibly help?" The response is
usually one of indifference, even distaste and the door is sometimes
almost closed in my face. But seeing how insistent I am they agree to do
me this small favour. Upon my return the situation is usually completely
different. A different person stands before me. No longer apathetic and
desperate, because the little animal in its innocence and trusting
dependence drew out hidden depths of buried affection. This indicates that
man will truly find genuine happiness if he will learn to trust again in
the love and companionship of animals."
(*Note: Douai Version; Ps 104 in the Authorised Version) (**'meat' in
the Bible means 'food' not the flesh of animals or man which when referred
to is called 'flesh')