Many Christians hope to be reunited with their deceased pets in heaven. Personally, I have tearfully told a menagerie of beloved pets on the brink of death— turtles, parakeets, cats and dogs—to “wait for me.”
I picture the reunion will be something like when I returned to my hometown after four years away at college and my aunt’s dachshund Fritzy—the dog I loved best as a child—tore out of the house and down the block toward me with his tail wagging. I was overjoyed that he hadn’t forgotten me.
But will there really be animals in heaven? Not everyone agrees. Popes have expressed different points of view on a question not covered by Church doctrine. The subject became prominent in November when Pope Francis at a general audience at the Vatican said that the redemption begun with the death and resurrection of Christ will ultimately renew God’s entire creation.
Some media outlets erroneously quoted Pope Francis as further saying, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” This actually was a remark once made by another pope, Paul VI, to a child distraught over the death of his dog.
Various publications also observed that Pope Benedict XVI, who reportedly said that an animal’s death ends its existence, did not share Paul VI’s view.
People who don’t expect to see animals in heaven argue that only humans have immortal souls capable of union with God and that the bliss of the heavenly state is so intense that pets will not be missed.
But others envision heaven as a renewed Eden where all creation, perfected and rid of corruption, will live again with God and give him praise. Because animals have different natures than humans, they will relate to God in their own way in heaven and continue to serve as precious companions to humans, similar to their role in the first Eden, this argument goes.
If you search the Internet for the Catholic position on this subject, you will find polar opposite opinions.
Richard Geraghty, a professor of philosophy and one of the experts who answers questions online for the global Catholic media network EWTN, limits those who go to heaven to humans who have “chosen to act on earth” in accord with God’s will. He adds that “it would seem that we would not see the souls of our pets in heaven for the simple reason that they do not have immortal souls and are not responsible for their actions.”
In contrast, Jack Wintz, a Franciscan friar from Cincinnati, wrote a book on the subject, titled “Will I See My Dog in Heaven?”, that summons evidence from Scripture, Christian tradition and liturgy, and the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi that leads him to conclude that all creatures—including our pets—will populate the afterlife.
Wintz quotes the Psalms and other Hebrew Scripture in which all creation is enlisted to praise God and biblical stories like that of Noah’s Ark, in which God showed a strong desire to preserve animals as well as people from annihilation.
Wintz also talks about the inspiration of Saint Francis, who saw people and nature as part of the same family and addressed creatures as “sisters” and “brothers.” Francis is credited with promoting the tradition of the Christmas crèche and instructed people to include in that scene an ox, ass and sheep, although there is no mention of such animals at Christ’s birth.
“Not only was human nature made holy by the Incarnation, but also the whole fabric of creation was charged with the divine presence,” Wintz said when reflecting upon Saint Francis’ point of view.
Around the feast of Saint Francis, Oct. 4, many Catholic parishes invite members to bring their pets to church for a blessing. That is often when children ask where pets go after death, said Marya Wallace, director of catechetical ministries at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Laguna Niguel.
This is her thought-out response: “God is loving and kind and the creator of everything, which he made good. So when we get to heaven we hope to see all of his creation in its glory. We won’t know until we get there.”