On Sunday, Pope Francis declared a flurry of balloons released in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City a gesture of peace. Doves—the Vatican’s go-to peace symbol since one reportedly brought Noah an olive branch—are on leave following uproar over the disastrous attempt last January to release a pair for peace.
The Catholic Church celebrates peace on the last Sunday of each January. Last year, the creatures were attacked just moments after their release—and it’s unclear whether the birds survived.
Last year, Chris Wolverton created a petition urging the Pope to switch to an inanimate animal-friendly alternative, such as paper cranes or white poppies. Nearly 77,000 signers agreed with him: “It was a scene of violence, which is the opposite of peace,” he told Fox News.
A large crow and a gull “dive bombed” the birds. They grabbed their tails and ruffled their feathers. The Papal doves, which were bred in captivity, had little experience avoiding predators. Moreover, these doves were bred to be as bright-white as possible, which makes them an easy target.
"Animals born in captivity, not being wild animals, aren't able to recognize predators as such and are thus incapable of fleeing from possible dangerous situations,” the National Animal Protection Agency explains.
In past years, the freed doves avoided danger by simply turning around and flying back inside. Perhaps they suspected they’ve been given a tough lot—in nature, doves are beige, similar to their less-glamorous cousin, the pigeon. (Despite their different reputations — subway-dwelling garbage eaters vs. Vatican residents — technically, pigeons and doves are the same thing.)
But colorful, helium-filled balloons aren’t an ideal solution. Latex and string are likely to float back to the ground and could entangle wildlife or pose a risk to creatures who will mistake the trash for food, according to the Marine Conservation Society. ”A balloon release is not a cause for celebration, but a possible death sentence for an animal,” a Marine Conservation representative told the BBC.
“Pollution” just doesn’t quite say “peace.” Perhaps it's time to brainstorm alternatives again.