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Worshippers Get Surprise Visit From Dean's Cats During Virtual Prayer


Every week, the dean of Canterbury Cathedral livestreams prayers from his cathedral garden in the U.K. It's meant as an uplifting moment at a time when people can't gather to worship in person. This past week, a surprise visitor made an appearance, much to the amusement of those watching.


ROBERT WILLIS: The Gospel - sorry, we've acquired a friend this morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the cathedral cats called Tiger dipped his paws live into the dean's milk. It's not the first time the cathedral's pets make an appearance during prayers, and it probably won't be the last. Joining us now is the dean whose cat got his milk, Dr. Robert Willis from Canterbury.


WILLIS: Thank you. It's very good to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first off, I must ask, what were you doing with milk next to you while at prayers? It seems a sort of sinful temptation for a cat.

WILLIS: (Laughter) Well, what we did - when the cathedral was locked, we decided that we would broadcast the services - the morning and evening prayer from our own gardens. And we've managed to broadcast every morning and every evening since March the 24. And the cats are part of that, but we wanted, really, to show that although, usually, we would be in the cathedral saying our prayers, prayers could be done anywhere.

And so the tray of morning tea, which was - the way we were sharing it was early morning and obviously the garden - was there beside me on the table. And it just became a feature of saying, here we are doing ordinary things, and there's nothing more ordinary than saying our prayers to bless the day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And having a cup of tea while you're at it.

WILLIS: Having a cup of tea while we're at it, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then Tiger took advantage of that.

WILLIS: He certainly did. It's not the first time, but it's the first time he's really been noticed and caught out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us a little bit about Tiger.

WILLIS: Well, Tiger is 13 years old, and as you see, he's a large tabby cat of great character. We have four cats at the deanery, and he is probably the friendliest of all. And he'll allow you to pick him up and likes nothing better than to lie on the ground and have his tummy tickled or lie in the sunshine and just relax. So we've enjoyed Tiger's company.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there was also another cat, Leo, who actually walked in between your robes in the middle of one of the prayers.

WILLIS: That's right. We were in the orchard of the deanery that day, and he'd been sitting on the chair next to me and went off to explore something. And I was at that time, I think, talking about the story of four friends lowering their sick friend through the roof to lay him at the feet of Jesus. And as I was saying that, Leo rushed back in. And cats love sort of camps and things of that sort - and so a hidey-hole under the chair and then going through my cassock - and he simply disappeared 'cause he was the same color as the cassock and simply vanishes. And that caused a storm, which was great.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) I hear they're not the only animals at the cathedral. You've got hens and pigs as well.

WILLIS: We've got - yes, we've got lots of creatures because this - the cathedral is part of a World Heritage Site, and so the gardens have always been a huge feature. And they're large gardens, and so we have livestock as well - the pigs and the hens and the chickens. And they wander around the lawns. We also have other creatures like hedgehogs and even foxes, which aren't quite so welcome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask you - this is such a hard time for so many of us and I imagine for you as well.

WILLIS: It is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know that animals and pets, you know, often bring solace along with prayer. Has it been nice having all this focus on perhaps, you know, the felines of your coterie?

WILLIS: (Laughter) It - certainly. When we started, there was a sense of sadness that we were locked out of the cathedral because normally, we would go in the cathedral each morning at 7:30 and be joined by folk to say morning prayer and stay through the day. So for two or three days, when we started this, there was this sense of, you know, really, we'd rather be in - that soon went away because we realized how many people we were reaching and also how grateful they were not only for the prayers and reflections, but for getting to know the creatures who simply appeared and the beauty of the landscape - lots of birdsong - and also letters that would come across the world from us.

We had a letter last week from a young soldier in Kabul in Afghanistan saying that each morning, he tuned in to an English garden and felt near to his family as prayers were said, and that sort of got writ in the meanwhile of the sound of gunfire. And those sorts of letters really cause you to realize how important this is to people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Dr. Robert Willis, the dean of Canterbury Cathedral.

Thank you very much.

WILLIS: Thank you, Lulu. Thank you.


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