Pope Francis pleased animal lovers around the world after he recently comforted a crying child who had lost his pet, assuring him that "dogs go to heaven."
The Pope, who is seen as a liberal distinct from the conservative Roman Catholic Church, recently told a young boy, whose dog had died and who was crying during the former's public appearance on St Peter's Square in Vatican, that "One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God's creatures," The New York Times reported.
The Argentinean Pope took his papal name after being chosen as the head of the Roman Catholic Church from St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
After his appointment last March, Pope Francis had said that he chose to be called after St Francis of Assisi, "the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation," The Catholic Telegraph had reported.
This latest remark, though in a casual setting, once again puts the 77-year-old Pontiff in conflict with the former beliefs of the church, after he has already accepted gay rights and acknowledged the theory of evolution and the Big Bang.
Former Popes have cited that animals have "no consciousness" and that their deaths mean "the end of existence on earth," though Pope John Paul II had adopted a different stance when he said "animals are as near to God as men are."
Animal rights activists have lauded Pope Francis' remark.
"If the Pope did mean that all animals go to heaven, then the implication is that animals have a soul. And if that's true, then we ought to seriously consider how we treat them. We have to admit that these are sentient beings, and they mean something to God," Christine Gutleben, of the Humane Society animal protection group, told NYT.