“On the wings of a dove” – A sign from above?

Do any of you remember my anecdote about the unusual appearance of a raven during the “inaugural” Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated in St. Peter’s Square in 2005?  HERE

During the Angelus today, “peace doves” were released by Pope Francis in yet another no doubt meaningful  gesture for… peace.

From CBS:

VATICAN CITY – Two white doves that were released by children standing alongside Pope Francis as a peace gesture have been attacked by other birds.

As tens of thousands of people watched in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, a seagull and a large black crow swept down on the doves right after they were set free from an open window of the Apostolic Palace.

One dove lost some feathers as it broke free from the gull. But the crow pecked repeatedly at the other dove.

It was not clear what happened to the doves as they flew off. [Any bets?]

While speaking at the window beforehand, Francis had appealed for peace inUkraine, where anti-government protesters have died.

And now this…  be sure to sing along!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. mrshopey says:

    It is time to go crow hunting.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Disturbing and sad.

  3. Suzanne Carl says:

    When signs like this are so clear, don’t we ignore them at our own peril?

  4. Christophe says:

    The augur reported that the Bishop of Rome will soon be forced to eat crow.

    [Hold your horses! Instead, perhaps, “swallow toads of pride”? Ingioare rospi! On the other hand, no one “forces” the Roman Pontiff.]

  5. Priam1184 says:

    Anybody with their eyes open on this world we live in probably didn’t need to see this sign in order to understand the peril the world is in, but who knows?

  6. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    If animals have “rights,” then how should society protect those rights from being violated (in the most brutal of ways) by other animals?

  7. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    My vote would be that all doves be issued concealed-carry permits. Tout de suite.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [Good one.]

  8. disco says:

    Sounds like a couple of self-absorbed neo-pelagian birds to me

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  9. StWinefride says:

    That looks like a jackdaw not a crow.

  10. Robbie says:

    I won’t lie. I laughed when I saw these pictures. I know it wasn’t right, but I still laughed. I just imagined the Pope and the children singing “Give Peace a Chance” as the doves were attacked by the sea gulls!

  11. Iacobus M says:

    The next time the Pope wants to release a couple of doves he ought to have a couple of Swiss Guards standing by with pump action shotguns loaded with birdshot. As they used to say in the Army, “proper prior planning prevents p—- poor performance.”


  12. Justalurkingfool says:

    “My vote would be that all doves be issued concealed-carry permits. Tout de suite.”

    Do you not agree that an appropriate tax should be levied on the white doves, so that the downtrodden gulls and crows can share in their bounty? This needs be done to ensure equity among the animals who are subjects of the state. This would not be necessary were the white doves not mean-spirited and elitist. Did you see how they mocked poor gulls and crows with their luminous finery, indeed? I certainly did!

    [Did you know that in Rome there is an “alderman for non-human citizens”?]

  13. mburn16 says:

    These dove releases always provide something to chuckle at. The Seagulls have made problems before, and its not uncommon at all to see the doves attempt to fly right back inside the window. I think either Benedict or JPII even had a dove fly back and land on him at one point.

  14. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Can you imagine what would have happened if something like this had occurred under the Empire? It would have collapsed, and Rome would have burned.

    I like the tune, too: it was used in “Tender Mercies”.

  15. acardnal says:

    Perhaps life really is black and white.

    [And almost red… in beak and claw.]

  16. Bosco says:

    When photo-ops go bad! No warm fuzzy lamb draped about the shoulders this time.

    Here is a link to more dramatic photos of this event:


    For my part I am reminded of Darius and Alexander the Great and all the numerous omens recorded which preceded the disastrous Battle of Gaugamela.

  17. Eliane says:

    Perhaps next time he should stick to balloons.

  18. Jaybirdnbham says:

    A few questions about the details of these releases of white doves: do they ‘home’ back to their coop where they were living? Do doves (white or otherwise) naturally occur in Rome to an extent that they would have any chance of surviving after being released and living a normal dove’s life in the wild?
    At the risk of being labeled as some sort of animal rights extremist, my feeling is that if the doves can’t easily integrate themselves into the environment or can’t at least fly back quickly to their coops, then it’s cruel to release them just to make nice ‘statements’ or photo ops. Does anyone know what actually goes on behind the scenes, before and after, with these doves?

  19. Tom in NY says:

    In pagan Rome, what did the haruspex say to maximus pontifex? “What am I, chopped liver?”
    Salutationes omnibus.

  20. Absit invidia says:

    A similar thing happened in my home parish when I was young. A cage full of doves were released INSIDE the Church on Pentecost Sunday and the result was catastrophic. Doves were slamming face first into stain glass windows at the oohs and ahs of the packed church. One corner of the church a commotion would be heard where I looked to see an old lady swinging frantically at a dove near her head. At another corner large crowds of people ducked in unison as if performing a wave. I was seated near the aisle, and I vividly recall watching a dove line up as if trying to land on an aircraft carrier and instead of landing on its feet came in with some speed without anybody to tell it, “Maverick pull up!” and, with great amusement, watched it literally slide halfway down the marble surface aisle. And this occurred during mass. The remainder of mass continued with many a distracted worshipper.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Crows and ravens are tough birds; I’ve seen a flock of crows attack a young redtailed hawk and drive it off. And of course Father Z has pointed out before how they warn us in traditional iconography to remember tomorrow (“Cras! Cras!”). They aren’t a sign of evil; they’re a sign that there’s food around somewhere. And of course Elijah was fed by a raven; and many saints had clever ravens as pets or friends, including St. Benedict. Ravens represent wisdom.

    Seagulls in this country often nest in shopping center parking lots (on the lightposts) and have learned to get along far from the sea (often by eating food dropped by humans), so I imagine they also like tall Roman buildings.

    Doves do live naturally in Italy and Rome, both in the wild and as food animals raised in dovecotes. They probably try not to hang around near crows or seagulls, though.

  22. RJHighland says:

    Poor dove fells like a traditionalist in Rome, constantly being pecked at and bloodied by crows. The crows are like the smoke that Paul VI spoke of entering the Church.

  23. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Seagull in Latin is “larus” or “laros.” The word only appears in the Vulgate in the list of birds that aren’t kosher to eat, in Leviticus 11:16 and in Deuteronomy 14:15. In fact, according to the verse right before that, neither ravens nor gulls are kosher eatin’.

    There’s actually a verse of Zephaniah (Zeph. 3:1) where being a dove is a bad thing, but that’s because Hebrew “jonah” can mean either “dove” or “oppressing.”

    (And yes, St. Columba named his island of Iona after himself, or rather, after his patron saint.)

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Oh, and St. Vincent of Saragossa (Zaragoza) just had his feastday, and one of his symbols is the raven! (And his mother’s name was Enola, just like the plane, so that’s a much older name than I thought.)

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    St. Vincent’s symbol is a raven because his corpse was thrown out to be devoured by the buzzards, but a raven sat there determinedly and drove all the vultures off. Anyway… EF feast day Jan 22, OF feast day Jan. 23.

  26. Vecchio di Londra says:

    A scenario that would have delighted Alfred Hitchcock. I scanned the crowds, looking for a glimpse of the great director, who liked to appear in his own scenes.

    Of course, it could be a black-and-white metaphor for the defeat of humility by clericalism… :-)

  27. VexillaRegis says:

    I wouldn’t read too much into that. Listen to Felix Mendelssohn- Bartholdy’s “Hear my Prayer – , For the Wings of a Dove” instead and have a lovely Sunday! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HM94qVmq-4

    Good Night from Scandinavia! (But not “forever at rest”, I hope…)

  28. Hans says:

    As Tolkien was at pains to make clear at times in his writing, ravens generally have been considered auspicious (I’ll note for instance that ravens guarded the body and then the tomb of St. Vincent of Saragossa for centuries), whereas crows are signs of strife, woe, and even war. Very often people, or even reporters, don’t even know that there is a distinction between ravens and crows.


    On the other hand, Jesus told the Twelve they should be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. As a successor to the Twelve, one might consider how shrewd the current pontiff is trying to be.

  29. Justalurkingfool says:

    “Felix Mendelssohn- Bartholdy’s “Hear my Prayer – , For the Wings of a Dove” instead and have a lovely Sunday!” Excellent choice!

    However, in the interest of tolerance might I include:(?)


    After all, although in the very early 1960’s I learned to serve at Mass, in Latin, as an Altar Boy, by the late 1960’s and very early 1970’s I was the first person to play electric guitar at my parish in Orange County, New York. I remember learning my music selection at St. Joseph’s in Middletown, NY from a nun, who to this day is my most treasured school instructor.

    Father Z, please do not ban me for this selection. I do like it very much.

    PS. Is there really an alderman for non-human citizens? I will have to ask my son about that. He lived in Rome for about a year in the mid 2000’s and studied for a short time with Fr. Reggie Foster among other things.

  30. How old is the custom of releasing doves? I recall a photograph of Pope Pius XII (santo subito, Deo volente) with a dove perched on his forefinger.

  31. Cathy says:

    Wow, I’ve never seen birds attack like this, but, do you recall as well the seagull seeming to hold watch at the chimney during the Papal election?

  32. NBW says:

    Kind of disturbing. Has this happened in the past?

  33. LadyMarchmain says:

    If this had happened to Noah, they might still be on the ark….

  34. APX says:

    It was not clear what happened to the doves as they flew off. [Any bets?]

    I think it’s pretty obvious what happened to them. They were raised up on eagles’ wings lest they dash their little birdie feet upon a stone, and somewhere they’re now bearing upon the breath of dawn to make them shine like the sun.

  35. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z asks, “Did you know that in Rome there is an ‘alderman for non-human citizens'”?” To look after the august descendants of Caligula’s favorite, fellow-priest, and consular candidate, Incitatus?

    (Cassius Dio reports, “One of the horses, which he named Incitatus, he used to invite to dinner, where he would offer him golden barley and drink his health in wine from golden goblets; he swore by the animal’s life and fortune and even promised to appoint him consul, a promise that he would certainly have carried out if he had lived longer” (Roman History, LIX, 14, 7) and “He also consecrated himself to his own service and appointed his horse a fellow-priest” (LIX 28, 6); while Suetonius adds, “He used to send his soldiers on the day before the games and order silence in the neighbourhood, to prevent the horse Incitatus from being disturbed. Besides a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones, he even gave this horse a house, a troop of slaves and furniture, for the more elegant entertainment of the guests invited in his name; and it is also said that he planned to make him consul” (Life of Caligula 55, 3). Oops, Cassius Dio also notes, “dainty and expensive birds were sacrificed to him [Caligula, not Incitatus] daily”- call the alderman!.)

  36. OrthodoxChick says:


    LOL & ROFL!!!!!!!

  37. Supertradmum says:

    I think I would release one of two Falco cherrug , and watch what happens to the crows and seagulls. A sign of the Church Militant.,

  38. Supertradmum says:

    Cathy, you do not live in the Midwest where there are many birds of prey which eat other birds, moles, mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, fish, even cats. This is not uncommon to see here.

  39. NoTambourines says:

    Father, the Ferlin Husky reference and YouTube link made my evening. Thanks!

  40. Kathleen10 says:

    I can’t watch the video, too upsetting, but I get the outcome. Horrible AND eerie. I believe in signs, yes indeedy, Jesus said to watch for them. I like Supertradmum’s idea, release a falcon so he can give the crows and gulls what’s what. Then I’d feel bad for the crows and gulls.
    Hey I like Ferlin Husky, and that old timey country music is the music I grew up on. That’s good stuff! I love and appreciate glorious Catholic hymns and chant, and the inspiring lyrics and rhythmic melodies of old-timey gospel music. Thanks for including it Fr. Z.

  41. Kathleen10 says:

    just realized it’s not a video but a photo. ok then.

  42. anna 6 says:

    Several times when Benedict released the doves they flew back into the Apostolic Palace. 2 years ago the Pope Emeritus responded with “Mama Mia…they want to stay in the pope’s house!” (Back when it was the pope’s house).
    As he turns to go back into his study he is overheard saying to the children, “Non è facile”…”It’s not easy”.
    For Benedict, that must be the understatement of the year!

  43. Bea says:

    Loved the Daily Mail spelling:

    “Birds of PRAY”

    Pray tell, was this done on purpose?

    I pray we will not become prey to a false Peace as in John 14:27 “not as the world gives it”
    No “peace” for these doves:
    They became a delectable “piece” of lunch for the other birds of the air, who do not sow or reap.

  44. Volanges says:

    Fr., I prefer this version ;) Starts at the 1:37 mark.
    It will trigger memories for any reader from Bangor, Maine and the Atlantic provinces.


  45. EnglishCatholic says: How old is the custom of releasing doves? I recall a photograph of Pope Pius XII (santo subito, Deo volente) with a dove perched on his forefinger.

    That was probably his goldfinch, Gretel. Gretel had a certain amount of freedom in the papal apartments, and had a dish of seeds at the Pope’s table when he ate his meals.

  46. robtbrown says:

    Miss Anita Moore, O.P. says:

    That was probably his goldfinch, Gretel. Gretel had a certain amount of freedom in the papal apartments, and had a dish of seeds at the Pope’s table when he ate his meals.

    In the morning Gretel would perch on Papa Pacelli’s shoulder while he shaved.

  47. kimberley jean says:

    To be honest. I laughed when I saw the photo too.

  48. Jean Marie says:

    Yikes! You gotta admit – that was creepy.

  49. MWindsor says:

    Ravens have a longstanding meaning in heraldry:

    “As the collector of bright objects, the raven stands as a symbol of knowledge. It is also an emblem of divine providence. This symbol also represents one who has derived little from his ancestors and, thus, has become the architect of his own fortunes. It also represents one of an enduring constancy of nature: The bringer of Death.”

  50. MWindsor says:

    And I have to agree – this looks more like a Jackdaw than a Raven. Raven’s don’t typically have any grey.

  51. StWinefride says:

    MWindsor – I too thought that it was a Jackdaw because of the grey, but yesterday evening I saw that someone in the comments section of a newspaper correctly identified it as a Hooded Crow.


  52. Polycarpio says:

    Carol Glatz had a good piece about this on the CNS blog.

  53. Fiat Domine says:

    [Not in ALL CAPS, please. That is considered SHOUTING.]

  54. SteelBiretta says:

    A little aside on predatory birds, war, and peace:

    New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan was a staunch anticommunist and took the position that use of nuclear weapons could be compatible with just-war theory. (Here’s a newspaper article from 1964, regarding his criticism of a Vatican II document that claimed that all nuclear weapons were “an enormous crime”: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19641111&id=axdZAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8ugDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3439,3978475

    In 1983, New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan, a staunch anti-communist, took a stand against a USCCB pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace,” which condemned the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

    A few years later, Archbishop Hannan High School opened. Appropriately, his namesake high school’s sports teams were given the appellation, the Hannan Hawks.

    Perhaps at the next dove-releasing ceremony, a few trained hawks can be released as well– you know, as a deterrent.

  55. APX says:

    Not only did we sing along, but my roommate got her accordion and played along to boot. I think this will make a great hymn for our next solemn high mass.

  56. paulbailes says:

    Great story Absit invidia!!! … even better than the WKRP in Cincinnati “Turkey Drop” episiode (google will get you to it easily).

  57. LuisaP says:

    I have no idea what the ‘higher’ meanings might be. But, it’s ‘fur sure’ this Pope and his handlers don’t have much skill in operationalizing their ideas…. even sentimental and mawkish ones. Shoulda known, fellas! Unless, of course, they were after a belly laugh which they got.

  58. LuisaP says:

    I have no idea what the ‘higher’ meanings might be. But, it’s ‘fur sure’ this Pope and his handlers don’t have much skill in operationalizing their ideas…. even sentimental and mawkish ones. Shoulda known, fellas! Unless, of course, they were after a belly laugh which they got from me.

  59. LuisaP says:

    Too back it didn’t work…. it was such a “Nice” thing to do.

  60. kiwiinamerica says:

    If you’re into signs and portents, how about the lightning bolt which zapped the dome of St. Peter’s on Feb 11, 2013…………..the day of BXVI’s resignation?

  61. Adrienne Regina says:

    Another sign from above? Sent this to my sons this morning with my subject line: God’s angels at work – Read the black and click the red

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