Tuesday, September 14, 2010

John Paul II Was Haunted By A 'Catolic' Dream

I came across a fascinating tale of a dream of JPII's on the website Catholic Concern for Animals by JR Hyland.  The dream was about a homeless mother cat and her kittens.  The story was originally related in one of the two hundred some interviews JPII granted author Anton Gronowicz for his biographical book on John Paul entitled "God's Broker".  The interviews took place shortly after JPII's election to the papacy and the book was published in 1984.  It's a pretty straightforward dream, loaded with lessons for JPII and perhaps lessons for us as well--and some of those lessons might be about about JPII......

"The dream took place in 1969 the night before the Pope, known then as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, was to visit New York City for the first time. It was late summer and he had been touring Canada. He spoke of the beauty of its fields and forests and how he had wished for more time to walk in woods vibrant with color and with his "ears filled with the songs and voices of animals."

In the midst of this discussion of Canada, the Pope abruptly changed the subject and said: "The night before my departure from Canada to New York, which I had never seen, I had a strange dream." But his dream was not of beautiful forests, warm with the summer sun. It was of a crowded city, frigid with the cold of a northern winter. And although he had never been there, his dream captured the way Manhattan looks and feels, after a major snow storm.

"It was a terribly severe winter in New York, the city was completely covered with snow. Inhabitants were well-off and warmly dressed, and walking slowly along roads because cars, due to mountains of snow, could not be operated. I was happy that I could walk on top of the snow on avenues of white.

"All my physical effort was spent on walking. To this day, pictures of huge apartment houses on both sides of the avenue are instilled in my mind, and the doormen quickly closing and opening entrance doors as though trying to prevent humanity and warmth from escaping.

"On top of the snow, I noticed a brown cat emerge from a side street and walk on the snow. I looked closer, and to my surprise, saw that this big cat was being followed by six small brown-and- white kittens, all of them following the big brown cat in a perfect line. The mother cat looked back from time to time to see if her babies were there, but her main concern was to reach the entrance door. I presumed she was trying to find warmth for herself and her children, but as soon as she reached the door, a man in a well-pressed uniform, jumped at her with a broom and chased them away. I followed this procession and prepared to deliver a speech to the doorman. I opened my mouth and tried to complain, 'Where is your proverbial American generosity? Where is your American good heart and fair play? Let them in. Let them in!!

"I tried to speak, but the words would not come out. Maybe I was afraid of the doorman with the broom. I started searching my cassock pockets for a piece of bread, found some crumbs and put them on my palms, calling: 'Kitty, kitty, kitty.' But the words would not come from my supposedly intelligent mouth. Instead, the wind blew the crumbs from my palm and I said, 'what can I do? I can't speak to the cats. I can't speak to the doorman. But there are many hungry birds. They might pick up the crumbs.'

"Again, I walked after the cats, now with a pain in my chest, feeling tremendous cold. On the left I saw a church building and thought, 'There we will find help.' I heard singing and again, the idea occurred to me that it must be a Catholic church. The music grew louder, as though trying to convince God that they were praying to Him.

The mother cat jumped in front of me and climbed the stairs, followed by her kittens. I raised my head and saw a tall Jesuit priest chasing the cats off the steps. But as I was about to shout at the Jesuit 'I am a cardinal!' and give an order to accept the cats, the mother cat and her offspring ran behind the church, because from there came the appetizing aroma of food. Probably there was a kitchen there. But a second Jesuit appeared at the kitchen door and scared the cats away. They returned to the avenue and started walking north.

"They walked on the same side of the avenue as the Jesuit church and I followed. Then they reached an imposing red brick church. An Anglican bishop appeared and said to the cats, 'My dear animal children, please go immediately to the animal shelter. There is food for you there. We Anglican clergy donate lots of money to the animal shelter, every year, at Christmas time.'

"The mother cat and her kittens didn't even meow. They knew the authoritative voice of the Anglican bishop. They walked uptown and gradually the luxurious buildings disappeared, together with the doormen, and we saw drab dilapidated apartments.

"As they walked and the buildings grew shabbier and dirty, a door was opened, not by a doorman but by an old wrinkled woman in a cotton dress. [She saw the cats] and shouted 'Oh, little mother,' and when she opened her mouth I saw she had few teeth. She gently ushered the mother cat and kittens inside, who jumped happily about because the warmth of the house embraced them."

The narrative ended as the cats found a safe haven with the woman who had little enough, herself. When the Pope concluded his dream the author to whom he related it did not make any comment on what had been said. But he did write that "I had never seen such a sad expression on the face of this man." Considering that this was the same man who had related the horrors of his young manhood, under Nazi occupation, the author's remark shows the deep impact this dream had on the Pope.

If the Pontiff offered a commentary on his dream, Anton Gronowicz does not share it with the reader. But we are told that John Paul began to recite the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi."


There are a number of schools of thought as to what dreams are and what the symbolism represents.  What I find fascinating about this dream of John Paul's is that it maintains a continuity in time and place.  It could very well be a real story, and not a dream.  This aspect may be the reason that it seems to have so effected JPII so strongly. Dreams like this are hard to dismiss, precisely because they follow our normal waking experience of reality.

There are some aspects of this dream that I found very fascinating, such as the portrayal of the Jesuit priests, the Anglican Vicar, and JPII's own inability to either feed the cats himself or open his mouth to use his influence as a Cardinal to change anything for the better.  The dream doesn't paint a very flattering picture of the clergy as effective servants for the least amongst us--no better than an apartment doorman.  The dream ends with the least of humanity giving hospitality to the least amongst us.  It's easy for me to see where JPII's face displayed great sadness.  His own dream portrayed the clerical caste, of which he was a high ranking member, as either indifferent, compartmentalized in their charity, or in his case, impotent to effect change. 

The most obvious interpretation might be JPII"s dream is a kind of modern version of the Nativity story.  There is no room at any inn for this mother and her kittens until they find a 'toothless hag' who willingly takes them in because she recognizes a 'little mother' and the stray family all live happily in the warmth of her home.

A wrinkled toothless hag is hardly the first picture for Mother Church that would come to many people's minds, but it did to JPII's mind.  Of course, real Christian love has nothing to do with outward appearance, and everything to do with inward warmth.  I can't help but wonder if JPII ever understood the core meaning of his dream and what it might have portended for his papacy.  I think he probably did get the gist of the dream but as he himself experienced in the dream,  he couldn't act on or articulate this particular understanding about the Christian Church.  As he experiences in the dream:  "But the words would not come from my supposedly intelligent mouth."


  1. Research has shown that dreams are the way our minds work out problems as we sleep. We dream at the end of each sleep cycle all night long. And the last dream of the night's sleep is usually the one in which the mind uses the strongest metaphors to depict our current inner problem or conflict.

    Seems to me that JPII was able to see the needs of the poor and the church's tendency to evict the poorest, the least powerful from the places of power - which could have been places of hospitality. And while he could "see" the hypocrisy, and apparently even wished he could speak out, he felt powerless to do so. Or did he lack courage?

    To me the dream is very plain. The world cries out for hospitality. And the church shuts its doors. Or it says: "Oh, we've collected money for that!" But the "servants" don't really "serve" the "least among us". And this is coming from the top! (Remember, the Jesuits are directly accountable to the pope.)

    I would suspect that at least on an unconscious level, the pope realized he, alone, could have changed course. That was his calling. But he failed to take that risk. Or believed he - alone - could not do so.

    What a tragic flaw! What a tragic failure! This is a dream for all of us. Let us step up to the plate when the opportunity arises!

    Now, there may be personal aspects to this dream of which we are unaware. That could be in addition to what is plain here. How did he view cats? Snow? Jesuits? Episcopalians? Churches? The poor?

    Thanks for this wonderful blog, Colleen!

  2. I agree totally TheraP, this is a dream which should haunt all of us.
    I know it's haunted me since I came across this yesterday. It doesn't help that two of my own cats have faces identical to two of the kittens in the picture.

  3. Maybe I should leave dream interpretation to the experts. Thank you for sharing dear experts.

    What is fresh in my mind is the poll taken in the UK about the Pope's visit.


    "The survey found that 73 percent of people thought the pope should drop the outright opposition to abortion, with 79 percent saying the same for contraception, 70 percent for homosexuality and 72 percent for the ordination of women priests."

    Returning to the JP2's dream "An Anglican bishop appeared and said to the cats, 'My dear animal children, please go immediately to the animal shelter. There is food for you there. We Anglican clergy donate lots of money to the animal shelter, every year, at Christmas time.'

    "The mother cat and her kittens didn't even meow. They knew the authoritative voice of the Anglican bishop... "

    Could this dream have anything to do with females? reproductive issues? issues of gender? Hmmm?

    It seems to me most of the poverty in the world is borne by innocent women and children. Although no one here commented on the Hans Rosling video I linked to earlier it clearly shows that with increases in health, wealth and education women have fewer children.

    The contrast between rural Canada and NYC can be quite startling. Snow and survival are two predominant themes in Canadian literature, art and culture.


    This is too much! word verification: hoocat

  4. p2p Your observation about women and children in this dream is accurate. I thought about getting into that aspect but knew one of my regular commenters would more than likely see it as well.

    I have frequently observed that the largest single factor inpacting poverty in all it's facets is the education of women. Education though, is more than the three r's. It's also about learning how to think for oneself and one's family and that is the biggest area in which women are impacted by education--the exact trait shown by JPII's mother cat when she blew off the Anglican bishop.

  5. Fascinating story. Most dreams are far less coherent and logically sequential than this one. But then it was the dream of a Pope !!

  6. I think the answer to your question, p2p, might be found in JPII's calendar at the time. Was he working on anything to do with the moral implications of responsible human reproduction at the time? I find it curious that there was no father figure for the mother cat and her kittens. At least I'm not seeing one in this telling.


  7. I should mention that my husband and I have very recently been adopted by a small kitten in the strangest of ways. The poor thing was in the engine compartment of our car. We are guessing it found its way there from our backyard some time during the previous night and rode with us the 13 miles to work in the morning. Stayed put in the parking lot until lunchtime and rode again with us as we did some errands at that time. We got back to the car and it was meowing LOUDLY. Yes,we took it in. How a person could look an that sort of situation and not do so, I don't understand. So this story is resonating with me too.

  8. Well the time frame for the dream is 1969 and that would be the year after Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae. JPII was an instrumental voice in convincing PVI to issue that encyclical. You might be on to something Veronica.

  9. I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God bless, Lloyd

  10. Dreams frequently don't really mean anything, although it is true that 'progressive' Catholics would gladly save a kitten before an unborn child in the womb.


  11. Jasper, your use of unprintable language to me in a comment (at my own blog) has been reported to blogger as spam. Realize also that when you comment on a moderated blog (such as mine), your own email address becomes visible to the blog owner.

  12. Jasper this is what I think about most pro lifers. They can feel much better about themselves-- and it costs them abosultely nothing--by attacking people they know nothing about than by voting to tax US citizens to pay for a system that could actually provide for every child of every pregnant woman.

    Countries that do provide a real safety net demonstrate two things concurrently: They have unrestricted abortion rights but far fewer abortions than the US or countries who have totally outlawed abortion.

    This state of affairs would tend to demonstrate that pro choice/social justice Catholics just might have the best solution.

    But it's not cheap. It's a solution than takes more than canned slogans and empty words. It takes a real financial commitment. Gee why do I get the feeling that the unborn aren't worth your tax dollars?

  13. Colkoch this is what I think about most anti-theft people. They can feel much better about themselves-- and it costs them abosultely nothing--by attacking people they know nothing about than by voting to tax US citizens to pay for a system that could actually provide for every theif.

    Countries that do provide a real safety net demonstrate two things concurrently: They have no laws against stealing but far fewer thefts than the US or countries who have totally outlawed stealing.

    This state of affairs would tend to demonstrate that social justice Catholics just might have the best solution.

    But it's not cheap. It's a solution than takes more than canned slogans and empty words. It takes a real financial commitment. Gee why do I get the feeling that the theives aren't worth your tax dollars.


  14. Interesting you compare women pregnant with children to theives.

  15. Jasper,

    Stop the attacks.

    I am not pro-abortion. You are projecting your own fears about progressive Catholics.

    You need to seriously examine your conscience. The way to reduce abortion is through education, opportunity to earn money, raising the status of women in society and access to effective birth control and remind men of their responsibilities regarding their treatment of women on matters of sexual and reproductive issues. Those are the keys. It has been proven time and again throughout the world.

    Buddy, you're arriving late to the conversation here. Go back and read an earlier post and discussion regarding abortion on this blog:




    Read the articles and the comments, visit the original sources and read them. I think you should read each and every one of the sources I provided especially the chapter in the biology textbook. Then please come back in a couple of days and engage in discussion, not name calling.


  16. ColKoch,

    It sounds like you are not so charitable to theives? Can you look a little deeper into why they are stealing and not be so judgemental? What if they've had a tough life? All I'm saying is that instead of locking these people up, lets use our tax dollars to support them so they don't have to steal!

    Heck, lets do away with all laws against morality and just give everybody money.


  17. Mr Jasper can easily be a character in many of the parables in the New Testament.

  18. The Nativity surely comes to mind when I think of the powerful dream JPII had and, as well, the Good Samaritan.

    Sometimes people get flat tires along the highway of life or are in accidents that are not their fault, or they used poor judgment, know not what they do, and they simply need assistance or medical care to get them on the right track.

    Who Are The Real Thieves?

    The US budgets annually 59% to the Military: (Department of Defense, War, Veterans Affairs, and Nuclear Weapons Programs.

    6% for Health and Human Services.

    6% for Transportation

    4% for States

    4% for Education

    4% Other Programs

    3% Department of Homeland Security

    3% Housing and Urban Development

    2% Justice Department

    2% Agriculture

    1% NASA

    1% Energy

    1% Labor

    1% Treasury

    1% Interior

    1% Environmental Protection Agency

    1% Commerce

    I've heard & witnessed of stinginess & greed before, and anyone not wanting to budget to help women and children in what is still regarded as the wealthiest nation is flat out a huge neon sign flashing saying:

    ' I hope you are never caught out in the cold with no food and no one to lift a finger to help you.'

    JPII liked to ski, so it makes sense there would be snow around and he was playing in it. In JPII's dream he seems stunned to find himself in such a place. Stunned at the lack of connection to his own actions and then witnessing the disconnection & detachment from God's living creatures as he witnessed three men do so; the door man, the Jesuit, the Anglican, plus himself. That an old poor woman had the grace that he had not to even speak or lift a finger to help, must have made an impression on his soul.

    Thanks for sharing this story Colleen.

    word verif: verses

  19. Jasper and Mouse are trolls....we must stop feeding their egos....and be consistent....ignore them.....or delete them......there are all sorts of other places for them to go to...we come here to discuss our concerns and support each other...their ideas are represented by so many other right wing catholic blogs......why give them another venue?...can't we have a conversation among our selves without their rude interference?

    Thank you...Michael Ferri (not a nom de plume)

  20. Michael Ferri: absolutely AGREED. I'm working on getting myself in the habit on this blog of looking for the name of the commenter before reading even the first couple of lines. Although with those 2, it is really easy to tell the post is from their keyboard. At which point I stop reading and move on to the next comment.


  21. Beautifully done, as usual, butterfly!

  22. Yes, Veronica. I have long skipped certain comments myself... just by scrolling down to see the name. Isn't it interesting that the ones you want to skip are the ones where you have to scroll down to find the name? (with some exceptions of course)

    Colleen, it's possible to go into your settings and make it so a person who comments needs to have an ID. That, at the very least, would allow for people to see, from the start, who is commenting.

  23. TheraP after some thought I have decided to leave commenting open on an article for the first 24 hours. After that everything will be monitored.

    I will no longer tolerate any ad hominem attacks on commenters. If people can't respond to the thoughts expressed but have to resort to attacking the thinker, they will find themselves deleted out of the conversation, and in repeated cases classified as SPAM.
    I will also classify as SPAM every single comment where abortion or gay marriage is used as a patently off topic attempt to control the commenting.

  24. Sounds good, Colleen. Sounds excellent! It is a shame that some seem to get pleasure from trying to shame others. When instead it just reverts back to the attacker. But keeping threads from being hijacked is a good idea. (if it's flogging 2 issues especially)

  25. And I suppose to make things easier I should look into having one of the identities so my posts are more clearly linked to me. I've not been trying to hide so much as just not wanted to have another user name and password to have to keep up with.

  26. I can relate to this as I dearly love cats. My own cat, Graycie, could at one time have been the little mother in that story. At one time she was outcast, stray and pregnant. In desperation, she joined a colony of feral cats. They guided her to a kind soul who fed her and got her into a foster home.
    In reading this story I am reminded of the story of the traveller who was beaten and robbed and left for dead. The priest (Jesuit) and the Levite (Anglican) did nothing for him. It was the despised and rejected Samaritan who cared for him. That story answered the question: who is my neighbor?
    No wonder St. Francis loved animals so much.