Will this elephant go down in Church history ?

, par Pierre

Original text published in magazine KONTAKT.

©Estela Torres

I’m reading... and I don’t believe it : "Papal almsman Cardinal Konrad Krajewski earned a gesture on Saturday that caused astonishment and was captured on photos and recordings : he lay down in the circus arena to show that he was not afraid of an elephant. The animal gently walked over him. This caused delight in the audience the cardinal took to the circus in Rome : poor families, homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, refugees."

I sat overpowered with helplessness. The cardinal, a theologian, known for his sensitivity to poverty, experienced and wise, demonstrates courage in the face of an animal broken by torture. This demonstration, and the show as a whole, is meant to give encouragement to people in difficult life situations. Judging by the tumultuous applause, it momentarily added. It’s easy for people to applaud in crowds, at events.

Who are we Christians ? Who, deep down, is this knowledgeable about Scripture, the early traditions of the Church, Pope Francis’ integral ecology and the moral state of the world ? Did Pope Francis know what kind of a show he was putting on ? The questions loom in my distraught head.

The broken soul of an elephant

What is the training of elephants, elephant babies ? Briefly, in case readers don’t know.
Elephants are extremely social animals. Baby elephants spend ten years with their mothers before they mature to independence. When necessary, they are cared for in solidarity by other females in the herd. Elephants mourn their dead, and the herd even after many years returns to the place where it lost a family member. They have an excellent memory, which makes them suffer from flashbacks and traumas from the past. They cooperate perfectly with each other and communicate in their secret language, using infrasound, among other things. They are self-aware, remembering, predicting, judging.

Precisely because of these remarkable qualities, they have been used for centuries in circuses and for work.

In order to make them obedient, baby elephants between one and a half and two years old are forcibly dragged away from their mothers, who are chained to the wall beforehand so they don’t fight over the baby. It takes several people to do this. Weighing several hundred kilograms, the baby is placed in an enclosure, where the first stage of training is to "break its soul." This is done by confining the animal child in a tight cage and immobilizing it there with ropes and chains. Then it is inflicted with pain, wounds, and beatings with sharp hooks all over its body, especially on particularly sensitive parts (the inside of the ears, the trunk, the lower abdomen), until the elephant stops defending itself and screaming. When it quiets down, it means that its will has been broken and it is ready for proper training.

To conduct it, hooks are still used, which are hammered into sensitive places to force the elephant to kneel, sit and walk over the cardinals in such a way as not to offend them. If necessary, stun guns and tranquilizers are used. Elephants being adapted to drive tourists are hammered in the ears and feet with nails until they become obedient.

Not even half of the elephants survive the training. Those that survive are ruled for the rest of their lives solely by fear of man.

It was before such a broken animal that Cardinal Krajewski demonstrated his courage. Did he know nothing about training ? About the fact that in dozens of countries there is a total or partial ban on the use of animals in circuses ? And where the ban is not yet in place, many local authorities do not allow such circuses into cities ?

Animals - the wonder of the Earth

I sincerely admire the Cardinal for his actions and genuine dedication, including in struggling Ukraine, but concern for people does not exclude other concerns. Is he not familiar with the Encyclical "Laudato si’" ? Has he not read these words : "...when the heart is truly open to universal communion, then nothing and no one is excluded from this brotherhood. (...) The heart is one, and the same misery that leads to the abuse of animals will inevitably manifest itself in the relationship with other people. Any cruelty to any creature "is contrary to the dignity of man"" (LS, 92) ? Francis goes on to write, "True human development is moral in nature ... it should also be oriented toward the natural world and "take into account the nature of each entity and their interconnectedness in an ordered system." Therefore, man’s ability to transform reality should be developed on the basis of the original destiny of things, assigned to it by God" (LS:5).

What is this original destiny ? It is the realization of each being’s inherent purpose and needs. God brought animals, good animals, to man so that he would not be alone. He made a covenant with them, cares for them, feeds them, they are all numbered and are a miracle in the living ecosystem of the Earth. They are also companions of humans on their way to the Kingdom of God. This is the most important thing the Scriptures say about them.

Why is it so difficult for Catholics to grasp that man, created in the image of God, is supposed to be to the helpless creatures of God what God is to man : a protector, a merciful host caring for their flourishing ?

Satanic feature of animal abuse

Where does the indifference of modern man to the suffering of animals come from ? Once upon a time it was an armor that allowed us to fight for life. Only that it is no longer necessary. Yet people’s frozen hearts have not thawed. Indifference and social conspiracy of silence around animal exploitation still allow it to be carried out without restraint, for huge profits, for convenience, refined cravings, the delight of the palate, for tradition and entertainment. Exploitation takes place behind the tight walls of breeding and slaughterhouses, in grim pens, in sterile laboratories. Its products, beautifully "packaged," are not associated with life to anyone.

This is not how it was in the beginning. The early Christians, Church Fathers, mystics and monks renounced violence against animals, believing, such as St. Jerome, that in mortality one must live as if already living in the Kingdom of Heaven, professing the values proper to it : love, kindness, gentleness, compassion. Traces of God’s presence and goodness in animals were seen by St. Francis, and Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote : "Cruelty to animals is something as if man did not love God... There is something terrifying, satanic in the abuse of those who have never harmed us and who cannot defend themselves, who are completely subject to our power."

We don’t hear this in the modern Church, and we don’t feel the connection between our faith and how we treat the world. This issue has not yet really been recognized as a real challenge for the Church.

Also, how could it have occurred to a clergyman that playing with the sight of enslaved, humiliated beings would energize and inspire optimism in poor people, perhaps also subjected to violence and experiencing humiliation more than once ? What an absurd idea, from some bygone era : to take the poor, addicted, in crisis of homelessness... to the circus ? So that, looking at clowns, acrobats and an elephant - slave, they would feel better. Fellini would have made a good movie out of it ! It is indeed difficult to understand.

Enough of the mindlessness !

I read comments that we are exaggerating, that Cardinal Krajewski knows nothing about training, that he meant well, that he does so much good.

No, we are not exaggerating. Enough of thoughtlessness, enough of pretending that indifference to the misfortune of sentient beings is okay !

For decades, not to say hundreds of years, an increasing number of Catholics have been demanding from the Holy See a detailed, taking into account reality and knowledge, moral teaching with regard to human-animal relations.

And nothing. All the while the cries and pleas for mercy of billions of animals tortured by humans in every corner of the world are ringing in the sky. We must not be silent about it ! We must not allow it ! God will rebuke every life.

The original text is published on the KONTAKT Magazine, website https://magazynkontakt.pl/czy-ten-slon-zapisze-sie-w-historii-kosciola/

Barbara Niedźwiedzka
Christians for Animals - Poland
Animator of the Laudato si’ Movement