Russian female friends of a Polish pope

Cats

 

This history is veiled in mystery and much greater than that already surrounding the very race of these unusual animals. They came from remote Arkhangelsk and have survived all storms of history. They have a beautiful plush coat of hair that glitters in an almost quicksilver fashion. They fascinate with their majesty, posture and something like a permanent smile on their tiny faces sometimes referred to as Mona Lisa’s smile. Above all, however, their charm lies in the green eyes. Their look is hypnotising, one just cannot take the eyes off it. Mystics claim that advanced communication with them is possible just thanks to their eyes, that as the depth of their species-blending look meets two souls, a mirror of sorts is created reflecting the past and much can be read from it about the future, too. However, this ability is a privilege of the few.
That evening, the pope was very tired. He had been receiving pilgrims from across the globe, held a general audience, and had a few guests from Poland for a private supper. That supper, in particular, took its toll on him as his guests, highly educated and cultured, still entered into a typically Polish dispute, not paying too much attention to the fact that they were at the table with a great Pole who became pope and began to influence global politics to an extent never reached by his predecessors or any of Polish leaders, dead or alive. One of the bishops got so worked up during that quarrel that while shouting he spat out onto a snow-white tablecloth a pill with a cross, which flew all the way to the other end of the table stopping next to the pope’s glass half-filled with Montepulciano rosé wine. “What is it that he swallows?” – thought Karol Wojtyła with disgust. The pope settled in Rome and felt good in the city yet he still loved Poland, which is why all disputes of his fellow countrymen, including those at the table, worried him a lot, as well as fatigued him immeasurably.
After days like this one, he would give himself over to innocent play with the cats, throwing them a ball to retrieve or even a cassock button that had come off once and he started to use it for that purpose. The pope adored his two female Russian Blue kitties Anna and Teresa. As faithful friends, they always followed him once, tired, just like that evening, he returned to his private apartments in the Vatican. He would delicately caress their small but delightfully plush heads. They accompanied him in play and writing letters to friends but also meditation. Sister Tobiana, in charge of the impeccable whiteness of the pontiff’s cassock, would often find silvery threads from the fur of the plush ones on it. She would then only sigh deeply, whispering under her breath: “all that hassle with Your Holiness, all the hassle he gives me.”
Yet the bond between the lovely but also very mysterious animals and the pope from Poland was more profound and had more serious consequences than it might have seemed and this does not at all concern the fact that he wrote several encyclicals in their company. From the snippets of reports from the pope’s butler Angel Gugel and some other indiscrete persons in the Vatican, we can recreate, if only partially, the events in which Anna and Teresa participated.

Not Birmans
It is worth mentioning first, however, how those lovely and endearing animals found themselves in the papal halls. Once a Pole had been chosen pope, when Cardinal Pericle Felici announced the fact to the astonished world on 16 October 1978, the machine started of constructing the papal court and adjusting the environment to the needs of the Vatican’s new leader. Also the circle of his closest collaborators was taking shape. Father Stanisław, his collaborator of many years from Cracow, became the pope’s secretary and man of highest trust. It was he that received from the new pope the task of bringing cats to the Vatican but, behold, they were to be so-called Sacred Cats of Burma. Those wonderful creatures with turquoise eyes holding inside souls of Buddhist monks were to accompany Karol Wojtyła during his rest after long days filled with hard work. They fitted the purpose very well indeed as that race is famous for being able to adapt to the owner’s mood.
Hardly anyone is aware that Stanisław, known from the very beginning for his great love of his boss and willingness to meticulously do anything needed to satisfy him, paid a brief visit to Burma for that reason, where – as legend has it – lie the roots of the sacred feline race. True to the pope’s orders yet entirely ignorant about cats, the benevolent priest most probably did not know that he really needed to go to France, as it was there that he could find ones best matching the racial qualities. Stanisław must have concluded that for the pope he would like to bring animals almost directly originating from the legendary cat Sinhu. To that end, ignoring the differences of their worldviews, he even met with a certain Buddhist monk, yet interestingly enough not in a monastery but a cosy restaurant, where they discussed the whole matter drinking a strange blue beverage of a sweetish taste. The monk was supposed to know how to get to the people who were the only breeders of cats descended from Sinhu. Why then was it not female Birmans that came to the Vatican soon afterwards but two Russian cats Anna and Teresa, incidentally loved by the pontiff at first sight? Here is one of many riddles in this story.

She-cat aggressors
The then head of the Soviet KGB accused Zbigniew Brzeziński, a security adviser in the US president Jimmy Carter’s administration, of voting manipulation during the conclave and ensuring the choice of a Polish pope, which would certainly impede the promotion of communism in East-Central Europe. It must be said that the Russian was right at least in that respect. During meetings with Brzeziński, John Paul II would often joke that since he had made him pope, he then had to visit him in the Vatican. That is what happened and sometimes the meetings would take place a few times a year. For this story, however, the most important is their first-ever telephone conversation in December 1980 during a political crisis. It was then that 18 Soviet divisions, two East German and one Czechoslovak stood at Poland’s border. They were all supposed to march into the country in two days. Brzeziński called the pope to discuss the matter. However, he had major connection problems and it was urgent. Finally, having realised that the direct number to John Paul II’s private apartments would not work, he started to connect through other telephone lines, which was not that safe anymore considering such conversations could be eavesdropped by Russians using agents known to the CIA as operating within the Vatican. The conversation did take place eventually and the whole thing had a happy ending. After all that, it turned out, however, that the telephone cables in the pontiff’s apartments were bitten through by Anna and Teresa, and exactly when Brzeziński wanted to connect with the pope for the first time. This could be considered a coincidence, were it not for the events that followed.
Karol Wojtyła decided to crack down on communist spies inside the Vatican by strengthening a secret unit in the Holy See playing the role of counterintelligence, that is the Sodalitium Pianum, appointing as its leader Archbishop Luigi Poggi whom he greatly trusted. The archbishop initiated close cooperation with Israel’s intelligence and the CIA. Interestingly, both of the pope’s cats, usually rather friendly towards John Paul II’ collaborators and most of his guests, just hated Poggi. During one of the deliberations, Anna tore the archbishop’s cassock apart and Teresa bit his calf which oozed a trickle of scarlet blood. The meeting was interrupted as Poggi’s wound had to be dressed. Karol Wojtyła was surprised by the incident yet did not scolded his plush ones, who just then and there turned out to be far from sweet mascots.
In 1979, the pope comes to his native Poland for a historic visit. In Washington D.C. the event is watched by Ronald Reagan, soon the President of the United States. He sees great potential in the Poles and Solidarity movement in terms of fighting communism in Poland itself but also the entire Eastern Bloc. Consequently, in the pope he sees a man who can help a lot in that regard. Reagan was much concerned about the introduction of Martial Law in Poland and the day after he called John Paul II expressing his friendly attitude towards the Poles. The US president’s collaborators later reported than the conversation was often interrupted – horror, horror – because of cats meowing exceptionally loudly. Finally, however, the leaders managed to finish that important exchange. Then they wrote to each other frequently. One of Reagan’s letters was found by Sister Tobiana in the pontiff’s cassock bearing clear traces of a cat’s talons. Soon, in June 1982, Reagan met the pope in the Vatican Library. As a result of the meeting, contact between the CIA and Sodalitium Pianum intensified and the head of the US intelligence agency William Cassey began to appear in Rome.
During one of Cassey’s meetings with the pontiff, the incident with Poggi recurred and the conversation was interrupted again, an important one as Cassey was showing John Paul II photos by spy satellites taken over East-Central Europe. Later, it was noticed that due to the commotion over Cassey’s biting by the pope’s cats several such photos disappeared. The suspicion fell on communist spies inside the Vatican, still existing yet fought by Poggi. Nevertheless, at least some of those photos were found – in the form of torn pieces – by a butler, who immediately suspected that Anna and Teresa were to blame. The pope’s collaborators began to draw his attention to the fact that both cats behaved a bit strangely and their aggression was very particularly targeted. After all, when John Paul II received the governmental representatives of the Polish People’s Republic, the cats were rubbing against their feet.
The great pope tried not to be mean towards his collaborators yet when he heard that and other nonsense concerning some strange attitude of his cats towards Americans and their being nice towards communist dignitaries, he minced no words when speaking to those who promoted such theories, and depending on his mood on a given day such remarks on his part were either funny or bitingly ridiculing their stupidity. Over time, they would then watch successive incidents in silence and some of them simply stopped paying attention to the cats concluding that despite being no less than the pope he still had his own obsessions and they were exactly his two favourites.
In the meantime, in 1982, in a Siberian military base, a certain Dmitry Vereshchagin supervises the setting up of a secret centre for research on human consciousness so that it can be controlled without the will of the ones to be controlled. The work goes very slowly but it bears first fruit. Already in the 1970s, such experiments were carried out on animals in the USSR, with promising results, and in the 1980s they involved humans. One day, a man from Burma appeared in the base with whom the officers working there would drink a blue beverage of a strange sweetish taste. At his feet played cats with a penetrating look of their beautiful green eyes.

A mirror
Anna and Teresa grew in the Vatican. Despite his great love for both of them, John Paul II began to worry about their aggressiveness towards certain guests, destroying satellite images provided by the CIA as well as the cats’ growing distrust of his faithful collaborators. Nevertheless, he would not share his doubts with them, although they saw him more and more often sitting and peering into the distance. Facing the pope, sat Anna and Teresa, also as if looking at something far away. That scene would recur increasingly often and one day it took place during a trek in the mountains where Karol Wojtyła took his cats in a cage. That bizarre but also highly mysterious scene was noticed then by his faithful companion during such treks, Father Tadeusz. However, he did not attach any special importance to it back then – well, it was just the pope enjoying being close to nature in the form of not only flora but also fauna, and as he would typically fall into a meditative mode then, that was most probably the case.
No-one had ever seen the pope in photographs with his Russian Blue female friends, although there exist several pictures taken by the butler Gugel during those rare trips where the cats were present and in Karol Wojtyła’s private apartments. From the leaks and indiscretions concerning them, one may conclude that they are extraordinary and may shed a new light on understanding between man and animal as well as the unusual mysticism of John Paul II.
Suffice to say that after such unique meditative sessions featuring two Russian cats and one of the greatest mystics of the contemporary world, their behaviour changed beyond recognition. They softened vis-à-vis guests from the USA, becoming almost endearing and starting to accept Archbishop Poggi. They did not destroy any documents or photographs anymore and since then they had never obstructed a conversation or bitten through a telephone cable. Whence the change? Stanisław, who believed in the sanctity of the Polish Pope already then, saw the reason for it in the supernatural abilities Karol Wojtyła had of talking with all creatures. He would say that was like a breath of the living God. Himself rather stiff towards animals, one single time was he brave enough to throw the pontiff’s zucchetto cap to be retrieved, encouraged by Karol Wojtyła’s joyful cries. Anna and Teresa brought it in the teeth together, as if walking in a cortege or procession, straight into the hands of the Vicar of Christ, not his secretary. Wojtyła reacted to it with his well-known sense of humour: “You see, Stan, they know who rules the world.” The entire scene made them both burst with laughter. There was also a characteristic laughter on the faces of the Russian Blue cats. After the sudden change in Anna and Teresa’s behaviour and a few gestures on the part of Stanisław, some in the Vatican started to suspect that the papal secretary also fell in love with the cats. They could have been wrong, however, and the current cardinal’s only love was and remains his boss.
The cats’ transformation, however, brought them the favour of the papal court and since then even former enemies of the plush ones began to show them fondness and attachment. Sister Tobiana would pick out silvery threads with tenderness whispering that the cats of His Holiness were close also to her and that she loved them with love only an animal can receive. And so everything started to work very harmoniously until those dramatic days to unravel soon.

The parting
In 1987, when the pope returned from yet another visit to Poland, he learnt that Anna had been most probably poisoned. A secretly ordered toxicological analysis confirmed that suspicion. John Paul II was in despair, which Teresa – still alive – sensed perfectly. Her behaviour also showed her highest concern. In those days, the pope’s collaborators hardly saw him at all. They were guessing that he sat with Teresa, both looking into the distance, and talked in that peculiar manner when in meditation the animal soul becomes one with that of a human. We learnt about what followed thanks to a report of one of the Swiss guardsmen.
He was asked to discreetly prepare a car with ordinary Roman registration plates, which they entered wearing civilian clothes, only Father Stanisław and the pope himself but dressed the way no-one could recognise him. He had made such incognito escapades to ski, yet that time around it was a special mission. Karol Wojtyła firmly held a cage with Teresa inside. The car left the Vatican without any security assistance and went to Trastevere.
In this Roman quarter, an old Polish woman named Wanda lived on her own. She was a widow of a soldier serving under General Anders who had died near Ancona after which she settled permanently in the eternal city. She was found by people from the Sodalitium Pianum and she agreed to take Teresa in as her continued presence in the Vatican could have been too risky. It was very hard for the pope to part with her but he knew that was what he had to do. He decided to accompany her on the way to Trastevere and when the old woman realised that she was visited in her modest flat by the Vicar of Christ himself, she almost became another victim in this strange story, so emotional she was about the personal meeting with Karol Wojtyła. His parting with Teresa was brief – a quick kiss on her sweet plush head and a firm order for the accompanying priest: “Let us go, Stan.” The events of the following day close the mysterious story.
Wanda went out for an espresso to a nearby café, which was not expensive and they also baked delicious cantuccio biscuits on the spot. There were only three tables and usually it was not difficult to find a free space. That time around, however, all the seats were taken. When she was about to turn around and leave, a man looking like a monk rose from one of the tables, put aside a glass with a bluish beverage, smiled at her offering his seat and left. She thanked him, sat down and enjoyed the great black infusion. Then she did some light shopping and returned home. She did not find the cat there yet she thought it had gone into a hole and sat there. After several hours, however, she started to look for the cat. To no avail. In the evening, she called the contact number she had received from Father Stanisław and told him that the Russian Blue cat disappeared without a trace. We do not know John Paul II’s reaction to the news and can only make conjectures about it.

Epilogue
In the early 1990s, when communism fell in East-Central Europe, to which the pope from Poland greatly contributed, and all alliances changed, a man was at confession in a small parish near Lviv. He claimed to have been working at the Medical College in Omsk where he assisted in cruel experiments performed on animals. He was also supposed to have seen Teresa’s head left as a keepsake by a mad associate professor who for the purposes of research on human consciousness control would kill thousands of animals there, including cats. He claimed that in the anguish administered to Teresa, her penetrating green eyes had been the last to go. Yet they finally did. As the priest taking the man’s confession turned out to collaborate with the Sodalitium Pianum, the event was immediately reported to the Vatican. For many successive years, it was verified using various channels and has never been fully confirmed.
After many years following the trip to Burma, in a tiny café at Trastevere Father Stanisław met with the Buddhist monk again and they drank a strange blue beverage with a sweetish taste. Little is known about that meeting. It remains a fact, however, that just a few days later a limousine from the Israeli embassy in Rome entered the Vatican on several occasions. Did that mean some negotiations between the parties, and if so, what was put on the table? Were there some other meetings between the mysterious monk and Stanisław? Who was that man really? How did it happen that once cars stopped moving between the Israeli embassy and the Vatican suddenly joyfully running in the pontiff’s apartments was Teresa, very old now? There are no unambiguous answers to all these questions. It should be assumed with high likelihood, however, that an entirely different cat found itself in Omsk while Teresa had been taken care of by the world’s most powerful intelligence service. The Russians were then outwitted by the Mossad, not for the first time in history. Which diplomat of the embassy was entering the Vatican in the limo? Who and why poisoned Anna? Did the pope give priority to the interest of his own love for an animal over some important matter concerning the whole Church – we do not know any of this still today and experts on the Vatican will probably still long deal with such riddles. As regards this story, it is interesting, however, what it was in those two Russian Blue she-cats, and later one, that made her chased by the world’s most powerful intelligence services? Doubtlessly exciting is also the fact that there have not been many cases in history bringing Judaism and Christianity close to each other like that single sweet creature with penetrating green eyes.

Note: Apart from the fact that John Paul II did possess two Russian Blue she-cats, some historical dates as well as the pope’s generally known official meetings and conversations, the entire other content of the short story entitled ‘Russian female friends of a Polish pope’ is a figment of its author’s imagination.

 

Ilustrated by Lech Kolasiński
Translated by Mikołaj Sekrecki