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A Christmas Tale

Animal Tails
by Audrey Thomasson

Father Henry Ross was the rector of London's St. Augustine and St. Faith Church--near St. Paul's Cathedral. He was a soft touch when it came to helping those in need and in the lean years following the Depression, there were plenty of hungry and needy people. So when one church official made several attempts to boot out a feline intruder that had spent the night curled up in a corner of the church, the rector came to its rescue setting out a bowl of milk for the bony little tabby cat.

"If you feed her, she won't want to leave," the official warned.

But the rector's mind was made up. He decided to keep her upstairs in the rectory until someone claimed her. After a notice in the church bulletin produced no results, Father Henry decided the cat would become the church cat and named her Faith--after her persistence to stay in the church.

Over the next four years, Faith earned her keep by clearing mice from the church buildings. She became a regular at every service, snuggling at Henry/s feet in the pulpit to listen to his sermons. And for special occasions, she took a place in the front pew. Parishioners loved her.

One day when she didn't wake Henry for breakfast, he went looking for her. Imagine his surprise when he found she had given birth to a kitten during the night. Sunday's church bulletin carried the official birth announcement and, to honor the new addition, the choir sang All things bright and beautiful.

A couple of weeks later, while Henry worked at his desk, Faith began scratching at the door to go downstairs. Once he opened it, she proceeded down the stairs, checking to make sure Henry was following her. Faith then scratched at the basement door and when it was opened, down she went. Henry kept the doors ajar and returned to his work. Later, he became curious when he noticed the cat carrying her kitten around. When she returned for her evening meal and then disappeared again, he decided to find out what was going on.

Making his way through the dark, cold basement, Henry pushed aside dozens of boxes filled with dusty old books and sheet music in search of his cat. Finally, he located Faith curled up on the dirty floor in the corner with her baby. He gently picked up the kitten and returned to the rectory. Faith followed close behind, protesting loudly the entire way. He placed the kitten in her warm basket and went to the church to give the evening's sermon. This time, Faith did not attend. And when Henry returned to the rectory, the basket was empty again. Sure enough, the cat had returned to her basement hideout with her kitten. Henry took the kitten upstairs, but by the next morning, they were both back in the basement.

After a third move failed to keep them upstairs, Henry decided to respect Faith's wishes. He cleared away some of the boxes and made a place for her basket. Faith happily settled in with her kitten.

The next night, the German's bombed London in the first of their blitz on the capital city. Many homes near the church were destroyed and more than 400 people died. In the morning, Henry was called to Westminster. As he rode home on his bicycle that evening, air-raid sirens started to wail again, so he went to the nearest shelter where he was forced to spend the night.

At dawn, he returned to the church and his worst fears were realized. The building was a mass of twisted wreckage with flames rising from the shattered timbers. A fireman cautioned him that the badly damaged roof was about to give way. Undaunted, Henry climbed over the debris toward the place in the basement he thought Faith and her kitten would be. He moved timber and rubble, throwing bundles of singed music sheets to the side as he called for Faith. He followed her cries for help and found them huddled between the bundles--dirty but unharmed.

Soon after he safely emerged from the church with the cats, the roof collapsed in a shower of sparks, crashing through the main floor and burying the basement. With tears of joy mixed with sorrow, Father Henry hugged the cats.

Five years later, in 1945, the war had ended and the tower bells chimed at the newly rebuilt church. It was a sunny October day and a black limousine arrived carrying the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was there for a special ceremony to present Faith with the Dickin medal for courage--the first awarded to a cat.

Forty years later, the church is part of St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School. The air is always filled with music and choirboys play in the yard where Father Henry's dear little cat lies buried.

Peace to you and all the world this holiday season

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