Named by pro-animal organization PETA as “Man of the Year” in 2015, Pope Francis on Saturday said that it’s wrong to feel pity towards animals while remaining indifferent to the sufferings of one’s neighbor.
“Sometimes you feel this [pity] towards animals, and remain indifferent to the suffering of others,” Francis said on Saturday. “How many times we see people so attached to cats, dogs, and then leave without helping the neighbor in need?”
“This will not do!” he added.
Francis was speaking to thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square despite heavy rain, which turned his Saturday Jubilee audience into a colorful patchwork of umbrellas.
As is often the case, because of the inclement weather, the ill who normally attend the papal audiences were following it from within the Paul VI hall, for whom he asked a round of applause.
“It’s hard to applaud with an umbrella!” he joked.
Speaking on the eve of the solemnity of Pentecost, Francis reflected on piety, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
He said that it’s important not to confuse piety with pity, which is “a superficial emotion, that doesn’t care for the other.”
Piety, he said, comes from the Greek-Roman world, where it meant submission to the superiors: first the devotion due to gods, and then the respect of children to their parents and the elderly.
“In the Gospels, Jesus is attentive to people’s plea for mercy,” Francis said. “We are called to imitate the Lord’s ‘piety’ towards those who cry out to him by rising above our indifference and isolation, and becoming more concerned for the needs of all our brothers and sisters.”
According to PETA, People working for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Argentine pontiff was chosen person of the year in 2015 because he’s the first pope to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of all animals.
Francis, the first religious leader ever picked by PETA for the title, previously held by Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Ricky Gervais, was also chosen for his ecological manifesto Laudato Si’, an encyclical dedicated to the care of creation.
PETA believed this to be a call to “turn toward a simple, plant-based diet, given the now well-established role of animal agriculture in climate change.”
Yet born in a country famous for its “asado” (the Argentine version of barbeque), where vegetarians represent less than 2 percent of the population, Francis is on record saying that his favorite meals all include either meet of diary product: empanadas, steak and ice-cream.
The Catholic Church teaches that man’s dominion over creation- be it plants, animals, or inanimate beings- is not absolute. However, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a compendium of the Church’s teachings, also says that “it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing.”
Back in 2014, Pope Francis had also criticized married couples who, moved by a “culture of well-being,” choose not to have children and get a cat or a dog instead.
This culture of comfort, he said, “has convinced us that ‘it’s better to not have children! It’s better. That way you can see the world, be on vacation, you can have a fancy home in the country, you’ll be carefree.’”