ROME – The story of Pope Benedict XVI's life — from his birth in Germany to his election as pontiff — is told through the eyes of a tabby cat called Chico in a new children's book that will hit Italian bookstores next week.
In "Joseph and Chico: A Cat Recounts the Life of Pope Benedict XVI," the orange tabby cat tells readers the pope is "my dearest friend, a wonderful man with whom I've spent many happy moments."
He recounts Benedict's childhood and his passion for reading and playing the piano. The books depicts the future pope's early steps in the Catholic Church, from when he entered a seminary in 1939 to his ordination as a priest in 1951.
The feline narrator is inspired by a real orange tabby cat in Pentling — the German town where the pope, then Joseph Ratzinger, lived for a period before moving to Rome in 1981 — that belonged to the family next door.
"I can assure you that what you will find in this book ... is all true and interesting," Benedict's secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, says in the preface of the book.
The 44-page book also touches on the Nazi era, when a teenaged Ratzinger enrolled in the Hitler Youth. "In that period, Joseph was forced to do something that absolutely went against his will: enroll in the Army and leave for war," it says.
The pope eventually deserted without seeing combat and was taken prisoner by U.S. forces before being released several weeks later.
The biography ends with Pope John Paul II's funeral and Benedict's election to the pontificate on in April 2005. "Now Joseph Ratzinger is not only my friend, but the great friend and leader of all Catholics," Chico says.
Benedict is known to like cats. Before he became pope, he looked after stray cats in his old neighborhood near the Vatican.
The book, written by Jeanne Perego and illustratrated by Donata Dal Molin Casagrande, will go on sale in Italian bookstores Monday, publishing house Edizioni Messaggero Padova said. The publisher will negotiate international rights at the Frankfurt Book Fair next week.