VATICAN CITY — In the popular imagination, the Vatican is a hotbed of intrigue.
The latest mystery in the Vatican press office is “the case of the missing ox and donkey.”
Like every Vatican office, the press office has a Nativity scene. It was set up last Friday — and I even helped. The set was in complete compliance with Italian pre-Christmas rules: Mary and Joseph were there, but the baby Jesus will not make an appearance until midnight Christmas. The Three Kings are still in the box and will remain there until the feast of the Epiphany Jan. 6. The shepherds, sheep and angel are all present in expectation of the Savior’s birth.
And, of course, there was an ox on one side of the empty manger and a donkey on the other side.
But as of yesterday, no trace was found of the two animals.
Press office staff asked me if I knew who took them; I wasn’t a suspect, it’s just that the CNS cubicle is closest to the “presepio.”
I didn’t see anything, but I had my suspicions. (A likely suspect, one of my colleagues, called to say it wasn’t him. However, he’s willing to go to the Vatican jail for a few days … but just because he thinks he could get a “scoop” by interviewing, or at least being jailed with, the papal butler.)
Some people at the press office think it’s funny, others don’t, but all agree it has to do with Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.”
In the book, the pope said the Gospels make no mention of animals being present in the stable when Jesus was born, but he also said no Nativity scene would be complete without them.
Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, said jokingly, “We will open a formal inquest.”