Italian AlpsFather Risolino, the pastor of a parish in the Italian Alps, looked around his study for his little black cat, Martina, but she was nowhere in sight.  If he wanted feline company, he’d have to go further afield.  Getting up to search, he sighed, thinking of a problem he didn’t know how to solve. 

A young couple in his parish wanted to get married in the new year, but their widowed parents – his father, her mother – were bitterly opposed.  There was no reason for their opposition, so the priest had tried to soften Signor Bertini and Signora Morone by pointing out the genuine love between their children, a love that was so obvious the entire village referred to the young couple as “Romeo and Juliet.”  But the stubborn parents refused to see it.

From the window of the rectory, the priest saw a small crowd gathering in front of the church.  What was going on?  Stepping outside, he was seized by Signora Morone, looking her usual excitable self, who gripped his arm with great agitation and said, “You have to do something, Reverendo, or Martina will be killed!”

When half a dozen other parishioners chimed in, the priest, completely confused, followed them into the church.  He almost collided with Signor Bertini, who was shouldering a giant ladder that had been standing in the vestibule.  It was always kept there at Christmas time for hanging and watering the big wreaths.

“Don’t worry, Reverendo,” said Signor Bertini, puffing under the weight of the ladder.  “I’ll get her down for you.”

Exasperated, the priest begged, “Will someone please tell me what is going on?”

“Look up there,” said a young woman.

Stained glass windowIn the darkness of the church, the priest could see nothing at first.  The nave was lit by the gray light of a winter afternoon filtering through stained glass, and the only bright spots were the racks of candles burning before the statues of the saints.   It wasn’t until he lifted his eyes to the high wooden beam that stretched across the nave – parallel to the altar but high above it – that he saw Martina.

As was customary in Alpine churches, a wooden crucifix was set in the middle of the beam about fifteen feet above the stone floor. And on top of the crucifix was the little black cat, looking around her as comfortably as though she were a visitor at a tourist site.

In a voice tense with fear, Signora Morone said to Signor Bertini, “Don’t try to climb that ladder, Alonso!  You’re too old for this kind of thing.”  All her former antagonism was gone, replaced by anxiety for the safety of a man she’d known for decades. To the crowd milling around, she explained, “All the men in his family have high blood pressure.  His nonno died in his fifties, and his papa in his sixties.  Now he’s fifty-nine!”

Determined to save Martina, Signor Bertini proceeded slowly down the nave, doing a kind of awkward dance with the heavy ladder.

“How did she get herself upthat high?” wondered Father Risolino, who knew Martina’s fascination with heights, since he had often found her perched on a curtain rod or the highest shelf of a dresser.  Last week, he had even found her above the roof of the rectory, stretched out on top of the chimney.     

Looking toward the left side of the church, he realized how Martina had done it.  A stand, which usually held flowers, had been shoved right up against one of the big wreaths hanging on a vertical post.  A slanting piece of wood about seven feet off the floor connected the post to the crossbeam. The little cat must have jumped onto the stand, climbed the wreath, leaped onto the slant and continued to the crossbeam.  From there all she had to do was put one paw in front of the other until she reached the crucifix.  From there she would have sprung to the top.

Father Risolino, who had an intuitive understanding of animals, said softly, “I don’t believe she’s in danger.  I think she is a genuine alpinista, a true mountain-climber.”

Nobody listened to him. All around him were tense faces and cries of “Dio mio, don’t let her fall.” Everybody was horrified by the distance between the little cat, crouched on her tiny perch high overhead, and the stone floor immediately beneath her that would kill her instantly and brutally if she were unlucky enough to slip.

The tension continued until Signor Bertini placed the ladder against the crossbeam and climbed up.  He lifted the little cat gently onto his shoulder and descended with great care, like an actor in a slow-motion movie.  He had barely gotten down, when Signora Morone leaned over and kissed his cheek, her eyes shining like stars.

Once Martina was standing on the floor, she looked at the crowd with some amazement, as though saying, “What’s all the fuss about?  I was just getting a little exercise.”

black catBefore she left the church, Father Risolino scooped her up and stroked the top of her head.  “Not only have you become the village heroine,” he told her, “but I believe you have just solved a village problem.”

Signor Bertini and Signora Morone were standing beside a statue of the Madonna.  They were talking for the first time in years, and the lady had her hand on the gentleman’s sleeve.   The hand moved up and down, clutched the arm, dropped back toward the man’s hand and then gripped it tenderly.

“I predict that our Romeo and Juliet will be married by Valentine’s Day,” he confided to the little cat.  And he was right, but Signor Bertini and Signora Morone were married before their children, in a great feast, complete with prosecco and the little tulle bags called confetti bomboniere. One of the bags, however, wasn’t filled with the traditional sugar-coated almonds.  It held catnip for their matchmaker!


By Lynn Schiffhorst

A Cats Prayer

Lead me down all the right paths,
Keep me from fleas, bees, and baths.
Let me in should it storm,
Keep me safe, fed, and warm.