Pope Francis has given hope to gays, unmarried couples and advocates of the Big Bang theory. Now, he has endeared himself to dog lovers, animal rights activists and vegans.
Trying to console a distraught little boy whose dog had died, Francis told him in a recent public appearance on St. Peter’s Square, “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” While it is unclear whether the pope’s remarks helped soothe the child, they were welcomed by groups like the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who saw them as a repudiation of conservative Roman Catholic theology that says animals cannot go to heaven because they have no souls.
In his relatively short tenure as leader of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics since taking over from Benedict XVI, Francis, 77, has repeatedly caused a stir among conservatives in the church. He has suggested more lenient positions than his predecessor on issues like homosexuality, single motherhood and unwed couples. So to some extent, it was not a surprise that Francis, an Argentine Jesuit who took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, would suggest to a saddened child that his lost pet had a place in the afterlife.
Citing biblical passages that assert that animals not only go to heaven, but get along with one another when they get there, Francis was quoted by the Italian news media as saying: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”