Vatican City, Mar 18, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA).- Margaret, the fictional stray cat adopted by a fictional Pope in a new children’s book series, gets an up-close and personal look at the Vatican and the Papal office that most Catholics could only imagine.
In “The Pope’s Cat,” a new children’s book series by Jon M. Sweeney, Margaret is just another stray cat on the streets of Rome until the Holy Father finds her on his early morning stroll, scoops her up into his arms and decides to adopt her as his own.
The ensuing shenanigans are what one might expect from a feline who suddenly finds herself in the Pope’s life – she sleeps on his furniture (a lot), gets a glimpse at the general audience from the papal apartment window, and even interrupts an important dinner with the Queen of England.
The Pope in the series reacts to his new friend with bemusement and good humor, all while going about his busy schedule as the leader of the Vatican and the Catholic Church.
“I find that we as adults are often thinking about the Pope and talking about the Pope and listening to what he has to say, but that young children don’t really understand and often just think of the Pope as an image on the refrigerator,” Sweeney told CNA, “and I wanted to see if I could do one little thing to change that.”
His new series about Margaret the cat aims to teach children about the pope and his duties, to make him seem more relatable and human, and to also give them a taste of the Roman culture that permeates many aspects of life in the Vatican.
“It’s a fictional Pope who introduces kids to what Popes do, to the fact that the Pope is the head of state, to the fact that a Pope is a very human person who experiences anxiety and nervousness…and is someone who is invested with enormous responsibilities as the leader of the Catholic Church, with more than one billion people,” he said.
The Pope in the story also frequently speaks to Margaret in Italian phrases (such as ‘dai’, meaning ‘come!’), because “how else would you speak with a Roman stray other than to speak to her in her native tongue?”
“Rome is a meaningful place to me,” said Sweeney, who is “a little bit Italian” and whose visits to Rome helped inspire his journey into the Catholic Church a decade ago. “I wanted to give kids that feeling of Rome as well, I love the Roman side of Catholicism,” he said.
Margaret was not inspired, as one might think, by the beloved cats of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, of which Sweeney knew nothing until the series was already under way.
“Somehow I missed all of that completely,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said he chose to tell the story of the Pope and Rome through a cat because of his own personal love for felines, even though he doesn’t own one at the moment.
“I don’t get to have a cat because our dog Max would chase it and probably eat it,” he said.
“I think that if you know cats and you read ‘The Pope’s Cat,’ you will see or get the feeling that I understand cats, that I’ve lived with cats a lot,” he said. “That the cat would sort of turn away from the Pope at first and not come when he calls – that’s part of what I love about cats instead of dogs actually.”
The illustrations for ‘The Pope’s Cat’ were done by Roy DeLeon, a Benedictine oblate and retired graphic designer from Seattle.
“He’s done a beautiful job,” Sweeney said. “He’s putting a lot of himself into it, and a lot of research into what it might look like in the Pope’s apartment, or what the Swiss guards look like.”
‘The Pope’s Cat’ is the first book in a series of four books so far. The next book, ‘Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s Square,’ is a Christmas story with fully colored illustrations. Books three and four will see Margaret venture into the Vatican’s Holy Week festivities and to Assisi with the Pope.
The series’ intended audience if for 1st-4th graders, and is published by Paraclete Press.