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Pushkin, cat who met the Pope and published a book, dies aged 19

Pushkin meets Pope Benedict XVI in 2010

The cat, praised by Benedict XVI, was a well-loved figure at the Birmingham Oratory and further afield

The author, papal confidant, archivist and cat Pushkin has died aged 19. He had been suffering from thyroid problems and went off his food on Sunday.

It was during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK in 2010 that Pushkin emerged as one of the Church’s most influential and highly-regarded felines. When the Supreme Pontiff came to Pushkin’s home at the Birmingham Oratory, the cat began to miaow loudly.

Benedict replied: “Aren’t you pretty, aren’t you pretty? What’s his name? How old is he?” Pushkin, wearing a ribbon in the papal colours of yellow and white, extended his paw and is said to have maintained “a dignified and prayerful silence”.

It was a natural meeting of minds between two men of letters: while Benedict has published around 70 works of philosophy and theology, Pushkin was the author of Pontifical Puss: Tails of an Oratory Cat, a ghostwritten memoir with a foreword by Her Royal Highness The Princess Michael of Kent.

The princess was just one example of Pushkin’s wide circle of acquaintance. A well-known figure in his Birmingham neighbourhood, he also kept in touch with friends further afield – corresponding, for instance, with the cats of the Carmelite convent at Wolverhampton.

Pushkin was born in Redditch in the late spring of 1999. He grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, where he belonged to Fr Anton Guziel. Six years later, Fr Guziel joined the Birmingham Oratory, and Pushkin came too.

“He was just a lovely cat, very discerning,” Fr Guziel told the Catholic Herald today. “He always liked to investigate visitors and make sure they were all right.”

Fr Guziel described Pushkin as a natural Oratorian, “a community-minded pussy” who liked to join the Oratory Fathers at table or at recreation.

The association between cats and the Oratory is a long one: the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, St Philip Neri, kept a cat who would sometimes be carried in a basket during processions.

One of the first tributes was paid by Lawrence Gregory, an archivist working with the Oratory’s John Henry Newman papers, who tweeted: “He was a great assistant to me in the archives, very skilled at #CATaloguing.”

The response to Pushkin’s death has been heartfelt and immediate. “A lot of people have been phoning,” Fr Guziel said.