Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yesterday I told you I would be meeting with Jeanne Perego, the author of the childrens book entitled Joseph and Chico, A Cat Recounts the Life of Benedict XVI. She had arrived from Munich about 6 p.m. and we agreed to meet at 7 at her hotel, the Michelangelo, just around the corner from my house. Jeanne is a native of Milan, has lived in a number of countries and now resides in Munich with her husband and son. She was in Rome to attend todays papal audience with the publishers of her book, the Franciscans of St. Anthony Messenger Press of Padua. Her daughter Allegra is studying in Rome at La Sapienza University and she joined us last evening for conversation and dinner at Pierluigi, a superlative restaurant just across the Tiber from the Vatican.

Both Jeanne and her daughter are very affable, multi-lingual, down-to-earth people whom you feel youve known for a long time. Conversation with both was easy and I learned a great deal about the author of Joseph and Chico, most of which you will hear in my interview with her this weekend on Vatican Insider. I learned that Jeanne has a dog - not a cat - in Germany, and that she did a lot of research into cats, their likes and dislikes, moods and behavior, when she decided to write the Popes biography from a cats perspective. She chose a cat as the storyteller because of Benedicts well-known love for these animals, and the fact that Chico really has been a friend of Josephs for years. Chico belongs to neighbors who live next to the home that the Pope owns in Pentling, Germany.

I learned that Jeanne has written a number of other books, including a travel volume on Pope Benedicts Bavaria and books on Christmas festivities and celebrations in Germany. She has also penned other books for children, and has a column in an Italian newspaper in which she critiques childrens books.

Last night I also learned that until today she had never met either Pope Benedict or his secretary, Msgr. Ganswein who wrote the Introduction to the book.

Jeanne was to meet her Padua friends at 9:45 this morning in front of a bookstore on Via della Conciliazione, near St. Peters Square. As she did not know the bookstore, I told her Id accompany her so she would not be late for one of the most important appointments of her life. As I left her in capable hands, we agreed to meet back at the hotel after the audience for an interview. She had scheduled a number of interviews before her return flight to Munich.

When Jeanne arrived at the Michelangelo about 1 p.m., her face told the story of her happy and lengthy encounter with the Holy Father. You will hear about that in my interview but I will tell you now that she was thrilled beyond description at the time he dedicated to her, making every minute very personal and caring. She gave him a copy of the book today in the presence of the publishers but she had previously sent two copies to the Pope and to Msgr. Ganswein. She told me it was obvious the Pope had read it because he paged through it and pointed out particular stories and illustrations that he especially liked.

She happily recounted her Wednesday meeting with Benedict XVI Chicos friend Joseph. Then she came to the punch line. At the end of their conversation Pope Benedict looked at her, smiled broadly, and said, You know, I always wanted to write a book about cats, and now a cat is writing a book about me!


Wednesday, at the end of the general audience in St. Peters Square, in the presence of tens of thousands of pilgrims who braved chilly temperatures and an occasional drizzle, Pope Benedict greeted Bishop Pierre Auguste Pican and a group of faithful from the French diocese of Bayeux and Lisieux who are in Rome on pilgrimage with the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Mentioning the triple anniversary being celebrated this year in connection with the French saint, the Pope noted that, 120 years ago, Therese of Lisieux came to Rome to ask Pope Leo XIII permission to enter the Carmelite Order, despite her youth. Eighty years ago Pope Pius XI proclaimed her patron saint of missions, and in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church."

Benedict prayed before the relics which were in St. Peters Square this morning as they travel throughout Italy until December 27. In Rome, the relics have visited a number of churches and seminaries and by Sunday, their last day in Rome, they will have traveled to several additional churches, including St. Agnes in Piazza Navona where, starting Thursday evening at 9, young people from the diocese will hold an all-night prayer vigil. The relics also travel to Bambin Ges childrens hospital and Regina Coeli prison.

In his greetings to the faithful at the end of the audience, the Pope also addressed relatives of the 28 Italian soldiers who died four years ago in a bomb attack in Nassiriya, Iraq. "May the memory of these our brothers, and of others who have made the supreme sacrifice of their lives for the noble cause of peace, contribute to supporting the journey to hopeful rebirth of the dear Iraqi people."


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