Pope Benedict XVI’s unexpected announcement today that he will step down for health reasons makes him the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years. Here are six surprising facts from the 85-year-old’s life.
Pope Benedict the Cat Lover
Pope Benedict XVI is a well-known cat lover, and has two as pets. Chico, a black-and-white domestic short hair, lives at his home in Tübingen, Germany. There is also a multi-colored tabby that hangs around the residence, according to Agnes Heindl, long-time housekeeper to the pope’s brother. Unfortunately for the four-legged duo, no pets are allowed in the Vatican.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles was in Rome for the pope’s inauguration and revealed the truth about Benedict ‘s love of kitties.
“The street talk that the pope loves cats is incorrect. The pope adores cats,” he said.
Pope Benedict the Pilot
Benedict holds a helicopter pilot’s license, and even likes to fly the papal helicopter. He did not, according to Catholic Company, ever get his driver’s license, and never learned to drive an automobile.
Pope Benedict’s Papal Shoes
The pope does not, in fact, where Prada. In 2006 he was spotted wearing some donated gear from Italian brands and fashion houses like Serengeti and Geox. There was even speculation that loafers he wore came from luxury brand Prada. During his papacy, Benedict resumed the use of the traditional red papal shoes, which were made by his personal cobbler in Rome.
Benedict Under Fire for Fashion
The pope came under fire from animal rights groups in 2008 for reviving the ermine-trimmed camauro — the traditional papal cap — and mozetta – his short cape. The Italian Association for Defense of Animals and the Environment launched a petition to persuade Benedict to switch to synthetics.
Pope Benedict’s Stuffed Animals
As an infant, Benedict was quite sickly, with ailments including diphtheria, according to Cybercast News. His favorite toys were stuffed animals, and he was particularly attached to a pair of teddy bears. It has been reported that he still has the stuffed animals that were given to him by his mother as a child.
Pope Benedict as a Prisoner of War
As an 18-year-old German soldier, Joseph Ratzinger in May of 1945 had deserted the German army’s efforts during World War II. He was briefly interned in a POW camp near Ulm, Germany, but was released in June of 1945, according to his memoir.
“They had to find a reason to let me go. I had my arm in a sling because of an injury.”
“Comrade, you are wounded,” he was told. “Go on.”
He was soon reunited with his parents, and later his brother, who had been held in a POW camp in Italy.