“Joseph and Chico: The life of Pope Benedict XVI told by a cat”,
by Jeanne Perego, illustrated by Donata Dal Molin Casagrande.
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2007, 32 pages, Grades 4-5.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Register on April 18, 2008. It is reprinted on the occasion of the death of Benedict XVI.
On April 19, 2005, white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel. Habemus Papam! We have a dad, a new pope.
A cardinal came to the balcony in St. Peter’s Square and took what seemed like a long time to read the announcement. Finally, he said that the new pope was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. As Holy Father, he would be known as Pope Benedict XVI. Throughout the Catholic world, happiness broke out.
But who was this new pope? Everyone knew that he was born in Germany, that he had been an adviser to Vatican II and that he was a brilliant and renowned theologian. What else was there to learn about this charitable white-haired cardinal? In this lovely children’s book, we learn a lot about the life of the future Pope Benedict XVI. Everything is told from the point of view of his pet cat, which gives a charm and innocence to the story.
The cat’s name is Chico. As his beautiful golden and red fur indicates, Chico is a tabby cat. Chico tells us that on the freezing night of April 16, 1927, Maria and Josef Ratzinger’s third child was born.
Baptized the next day, the child was named Joseph Aloysius. The day was so cold that little Joseph’s older brother and sister could not attend the baptism. Mr. Ratzinger was a policeman and was posted several times to different cities during Joseph’s childhood.
By the time Joseph was ready to start school, he had already discovered the beauty of music and the piano. As a young boy, he enjoyed playing the piano and was captivated by the music of Mozart. During the game, Chico would get excited and start stepping on the keyboard, much to Joseph’s chagrin. Being a cat, Chico didn’t really know what to think of Mozart. He knew he had better dreams after listening to Mozart.
Over the years, Joseph began to excel in school. One of the languages he learned was Latin. Joseph’s Latin ability became so superb that he could speak the language. Chico himself believed that studying Latin was better suited to cat words, such as “mus” for mouse and “sinus” for cat food bowl.
As Joseph Ratzinger got older, he began to study difficult subjects in high school. Like Chico, Joseph didn’t like daily two-hour gym classes. All those push-ups, stretches, and jumps were tiring. Chico felt that you had to stay in shape to catch a mouse or a grasshopper.
At the end of his high school years, and much to Joseph’s horror, he was drafted into the German army during World War II. With the collapse of the Nazis, the war quickly ended. But Joseph was captured and placed in a prisoner of war (POW) camp. There were 50,000 other prisoners of war in this camp. Fortunately for Joseph, he was quickly released and was able to return to his Bavarian homeland. Barely 18 years old, Joseph’s life began to unfold.
What becomes of Joseph? Where did he study in Germany? Why did he decide to become a priest? What difficulties did he overcome during his seminary days?
Why did the Church make him bishop and then cardinal? Why is a bear on his coat of arms? And finally, why is Chico so willingly sharing his good friend Joseph Ratzinger with people today?
To find out, read this absolutely ravishing account of the life of Pope Benedict XVI.