Angry Birds at the Vatican

On Sunday, during his Angelus, Pope Francis prayed for peace in the Ukraine. He and two children then released two doves over St. Peter’s square in a symbolic gesture for peace. The two doves were immediately and quite ferociously attacked by a seagull and a crow. The peace doves managed to escape their attackers and fly away. This is not the first time a dove released from the window of the Vatican has met with such an assault. There was a seagull attack on a peace dove released from the window of the Vatican almost exactly a year ago. January is the traditional month when peace is promoted by the Vatican. The ritual of setting doves free from the balcony in January for world peace originated with Pope John Paul II in 2005. There are often mishaps with the doves, even including their flying back into the window and having to be coaxed back out. Apparently obstacles, and threats to their life, are nothing new for a peace dove. Which is significant. There are many obstacles and threats coming against a message of peace.

Even if you see this as a common, random event, accidental and incidental…after all birds attack each other all of the time… the ironic symbolism that two innocent, gentle symbols of peace, love, fidelity and the prayers of the Church being set upon by scavengers, is apparent. Crows, especially, associated with gods and goddesses of war, linked to the battlefield through their constant presence to dine on the dead, are seen as connected to the underworld and perceived as a harbinger of death. Stark images on the news and the internet depict a natural battle that we can’t help but see as connected to a battle between good and evil.

I knew, though, I just knew, as I read through the articles about this event, that I would come across someone who would see this as a direct sign from God that Pope Francis was evil. I was right about that. “…Pope Francis is not a man of peace, he’s a man of war and God sent that crow to attack Francis’ phony symbols of peace in order to show the world this ugly truth about Francis…God rules the world and everything in it, including crows…Pope Francis is a wolf in sheep’s clothing… a trickster… a con artist.”…Sigh. That really is a stretch. I read, as I researched for this blog, that the dove is said to be so pure that it is the one form into which Satan cannot transform himself. In a way, the symbol of a dove is so inextricably linked to things of the Divine, to the Holy Spirit and to the Church that it can never be a false symbol. When the Pope releases a dove it will always represent peace, the Holy Spirit and the Church, regardless of how good or bad the Pope is. Anything that attacks it will be coming against a symbol of God’s action in the world.

I read one opinion who saw this as indicative of Pope Francis and his pontificate so far. A peaceful man beset by constant criticism. I find this to be rather astute. It is true that no matter what Pope Francis does or says, it is somehow wrong. From his first wave on the Papal balcony, to his interviews, to his homilies, even to what he wears, everything has been picked at, pecked at, torn at, misinterpreted and then explained according to each persons agenda. He is too liberal, not strong enough in proclaiming Catholic doctrine, not liberal enough to change what some want him to change. Of course, this would be more of an appraisal of the current state of the faithful and their tendency to squabble, trying to make the Church what they think it should be, rather than a true picture of the Holy Father. I do see, however, a visual of angry birds, from within the Church and from without, pecking away at the Pope.

Was this occurrence a direct sign from God? Or do these birds just be trippin’? Did we witness a message from God or merely an encounter of nature, between some natural enemies, with incredibly apropos timing? In a way, it doesn’t matter. God gives us the opportunity to see and recognize him in nearly every circumstance. He can use everything we are in contact with to give us a message and teach us. Sometimes, he wants us to think about it a little, to investigate it a little, to understand if there is a way to apply it to ourselves and bring new understanding and meaning of the truth in our lives.

What caught my attention about this, actually, were the two different kinds of attack birds. The fact that there were two different kinds of birds, that don’t generally relate to each other unless you are in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, piqued my interest. I decided to look up a few things about doves, seagulls and crows to see where it would lead me. What I found was an image of the Church and some enemies that attack it every day.

As noted earlier, the dove is said to be so pure that it is the one form into which Satan cannot transform himself. Doves and pigeons were the only birds suitable for sacrifice by the Hebrews, as stated in Leviticus 1:14. Two doves are a symbol of an unbreakable bond of love, loyalty, companionship and monogamy. A single dove is a symbol of peace, love, and innocence among people. When two doves appear the symbolism is said to represent, the Church of the circumcision and that of the Gentiles. Therefore representing the Catholic character, or Mark, of the Church as universal in its message, the unity of that message, and the diversity of its members in accord and fidelity to that message. The Church in prayer. One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic praying as one. The dove is a symbol of innocence, gentleness, peace, grace and affection. In art and in the Scriptures it is the typical symbol of the Holy Spirit. God sent his spirit in the form of a dove to gather mankind into his church. A dove, therefore is also a symbol of the Church, the agent through which the Holy Spirit works on earth. The peace doves at the Vatican can then be seen, not only as abstract symbols of peace, but as the prayers of the united Church and of the Church itself.

Both seagulls and crows are very intelligent birds and they both are often seen as scavengers. Seagulls are symbolic of a carefree attitude, freedom and versatility. Crows are symbolically associated with prophecy and character judgment. I also came across a reference that associated the crow with the Virgin Mary and the Church as well. By examining this symbolism we may be able to see how even the average, faithful Catholic could be playing a part in scavenging and attacking the Church sometimes.

The first quality is that of intelligence. I am not saying that you can’t be intelligent to be a Catholic, but people often use their intellect to outsmart, outwit and outmaneuver God and the Church. We think our own thoughts and then we think our thoughts are greater then any other thoughts. Atheists use their intellect to think God right out of existence. Those who have left the Church and other denominations have used there own intellect to interpret and judge what was given only to the Church to interpret and judge. Catholics use their intellect to decide what teachings they agree with in the Church and what they do not.

The symbolic qualities of the seagull, a carefree attitude, freedom and versatility, are ways in which we can peck away at the Church as well. We become too carefree when we think that the teachings of the Church don’t really matter as long as you are a good person. No worries, we don’t really talk about hell anymore anyway. We want a freedom that is completely unrestricted without being told or even having to consider that some of our actions might be a sin. We want the Church to be more versatile, more flexible. We want them to relax doctrines and teachings to coincide with this carefree attitude and desire for freedom. The Church is no longer about what they teach concerning Jesus and the Gospel, but about doing whatever we want without culpability.

The symbolic qualities of the crow, prophecy and character judgment have become problems as well. There are many Catholics who are following the messages of seers and prophets who cause them to believe that they are receiving privileged or special supernatural assistance that cannot be received otherwise. They forget that Christ left everything necessary for salvation with the Church. They see the Church as a completely human institution and follow after those who, without any real evidence except that they have said so, say they are hearing directly from heaven. There are those in the Church, as well, who judge the character of the Church according to the shortcomings of the humans within it. Who have decided that they are holier than the institutional Church and are the ones to preserve the true teachings of Christ and traditions of the Church.

Finally we come to an association with the Virgin Mary and with the Church as well. How am I applying it when we know that Our Lady would never attack her son’s Church? While it is right that Our Lady herself would never attack the Church an unbalanced devotion to her can. Especially when we treat her apparitions and the messages of those apparitions as holding greater authority than the Church. The institutional Church as well does not come against itself, but we within it can cause division, especially in the ways that I have described. We can pick at it, peck at it, and tear at it.

The good news is that the peace doves were able to fly to safety. This is the hope for the Church as well. Many will attempt to scavenge and attack it but the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Most of the time God speaks to us in every day experiences and occurrences. It is pretty rare to come across a burning bush. You don’t really need a burning bush to realize that you may need to deepen your understanding of what the Church teaches and why it may be right. Sometimes, though, maybe some angry birds at the Vatican can be a little more than just an odd or diverting incident. Sometimes, if we are willing to let it us show us something, angry birds might help us to examine ourselves a little more.


  1. Wow... what a great post. Well researched and interesting... I've posted it everywhere. Keep up the great writing.

  2. Excellent thinking! Love how your mind works.

  3. I think what you wrote is well-balanced and needed to counteract those, like myself, who tend to interpret things to reinforce their own beliefs and agendas. The Church, existing in the hearts of the faithful, will never die - we know this. But the institution as we know it may change over time, if it bows to internal and external pressures to become more inclusive and accepting of sin as a personal choice and/or human right. Anyway, did you write something on lightning striking St. Peter's? If so, I would like to read it.

    1. Charles,
      I did not write something on the lightining strike at St. Peter's. I wasn't writing blogs then. I would say off of the top of my head, though, that it would be indicitive of God's power and presence in the Church.
      We must remember that the institutional Church is the Church that Christ instituted. It is to the institutional Church that the promises of protection were given. When Christ said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it, he was talking about the institutional Church. The Church in the hearts of the faithful does not exist without or outside of the institutional Church. You actually cannot seperate the two. In fact, I would venture to say, that the negative changes in the institutional Church that you speak of, began in the hearts of the human faithful who are now putting the pressure on the Church to change. We see the human shortcomings in the leadership of the Church and we make the mistake in thinking that they define the institutional Church as it is today. Not so, Christ defines his intitutional Church and always will. He corrects it and through Him the Church is able to overcome its human failings and shortcomings.
      I will also have to point out that the concept of the Church in the hearts of the faithful is what people use to justify leaving the Catholic Church. It is also the concept that upheld the faith alone and scripture alone doctrines of the protestants.
      Thank you for the comment, Charles and God bless

  4. The most important part of the article is "Most of the time God speaks to us in everyday experiences and occurrences." That's what we need to remember.

    Because ultimately, no one can really know what the "dove" incident means, just something for us to keep under our cap and move on ...


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