A pond where Pope Benedict XVI likes to pray and feed the fish has inspired a new children's book published by the Vatican on Wednesday that his closest aide described as a window into the pope's soul.
"The Mystery of the Little Pond" tells the story of a young goldfish and his fondness for "the man in white" who feeds him bread during the summer months when Benedict stays at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome.
The pond, which is set in some ancient Roman ruins on the grounds of the palace, also features a statue of the Virgin Mary -- described by the goldfish in the book as "a very important woman" when he sees her reflection.
"You can discover the Holy Father's soul in this pond," Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, the head of the papal household and personal secretary to the nature-loving pope, said at a presentation of the book near St Peter's Square.
"The message is between the lines. I recommend parents read this book aloud to their children and they will discover the mystery of the pope," he said.
The 24-page book is by Russian-born Natalia Tsarkova, the official portrait artist of the Vatican, who wrote the text and painted the illustrations.
The back cover of the book, which is only available in Italian for the moment, features a photograph of the pope feeding the fish at the pond.
The book also won endorsements from Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, and Saverio Petrillo, the manager of Castel Gandolfo, who said the peaceful pond had been a place of prayer for several past popes.
Petrillo said John Paul II in particular was fond of the place but not all of Benedict's predecessors showed the same love for animals as Benedict -- Paul VI (1963-1978) had to be persuaded not to eat the frogs from the pond.