For those of us who have ever lost a beloved pet, many of us will find Pope Francis' recent statements particularly comforting.
Late in November, during his regular weekly address at the Vatican, Pope Francis sought to comfort a young boy who was distraught about his dog dying. Based on his studies of the scriptures, he says that the promise of an afterlife applies not only to believers, but to all animals as well.
"The holy scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us... what lies ahead... is therefore a new creation... It is not an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us. Rather it brings everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty."
The 77-year-old pontiff then concluded: "One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures."
"One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures," the 77-year-old pontiff concluded.
Many Church conservatives have held the belief that heaven is reserved exclusively for humans and may find these statements to be evidence of Pope Francis' perceived plunge into liberalism. In contrast, Pope Francis' conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, declared that animals are "not called to the eternal life," and indicated that scriptures never mention animals in connection with salvation and being admitted to heaven.
The more moderate Pope John Paul II, is reported to have said in 1990 that "...animals possess a soul," "divine breath," and "in this respect, man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures."
Since Pope John Paul made no official statement regarding the topic of animals in heaven, however, the door was left open for Pope Benedict to reaffirm the tradition that only humans have eternal souls.
Pope Francis' declaration shouldn't come as a complete surprise given the name he chose as his papal moniker was inspired by the by St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and protector of nature.
Not only has Pope Francis been touched by the example and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Pope John Paul II also made several admonitions to learn from the saint's teachings:
"It is my hope that the inspiration of Saint Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of 'fraternity' with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created."
On the day he was installed as Pope, Francis clarified mankind's role to serve God as well as His creation:
“Today, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.”
He went on to elaborate, “The vocation of being a ‘protector,’ however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts.”
Although the popular Pope has been an advocate for animals and the environment, Francis has also instructed believers not to substitute pets for children. His concern is that the culture has turned to materialism, selfishness and one that devalues children.
The pope criticized “these marriages in which the spouses do not want children, in which the spouses want to remain without fertility,” in a June 2nd mass for married couples.
He lamented the fact that we have become a "culture of well-being," which has "convinced us: ‘It’s better not to have children. It’s better. You can go explore the world, go on holiday. ... It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats,’ and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. … Then, in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful; it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes his Church fruitful."
Maybe we will learn to better love and care for our children, our fellow man, nature, and our companion animals. In that hope, perhaps we will all find heaven together.
Featured photo submitted by Jenny of her dog, Fox, wearing the Holy Hound Dog Costume.
Do you think pets will go to heaven? Is it wrong to call pets "our children?"
Sorry, pet lovers, Pope Francis did not actually say animals will go to heaven. The statements were apparently fabricated, or at least misunderstood. There also no boy grieving boy to be comforted.
Pope Francis does not have an official position about animals in the afterlife. Instead, he prefers to focus on bringing attention to the issues associated with poverty.
Read more about the topic here.