Churches worldwide bless animals to honor St. Francis

October 6, 2008

From Manila in the Philippines to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, churches around the world organized services of blessing for animals to mark the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.

 

"These services allow people of faith to recognize the importance of the non-human members of their families, and their blessedness to God," said Jordan Blevins, assistant director of the environmental justice program of the U.S. National Council of Churches.

For this year's services on October 4, some churches were overrun with puppies and kittens, children holding stuffed animal toys, and families bringing their ageing pets for a blessing. Other churches used the occasion to address issues related to the environment and endangered species.

St. Francis was born in the late 12th century in Assisi in northern Italy. He lived a simple life of poverty, and gained a reputation of being the friend of animals. He established a rule and an order, which still exists today as the Order of St. Francis, or the Franciscans. Francis died in 1226, aged 44, and less than two years later Pope Gregory IX declared him a saint. In 1979, Pope John Paul II further declared St. Francis to be the patron saint of ecology.

"A 'Blessing of the Animals' service reminds us of the values St. Francis held," said Blevins.

"In the biblical story of Noah and the ark, it is clear that God provided for the blessing of animals in the same way that God did people. There are threats to God's creation present in our world today, particularly regarding the well being of endangered species."

At New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, curators took parishioners and guests on a special tour of the church to find the vast diversity of animal life represented on the windows and stones of the building. These include a frog, an ape, a woolly mammoth, birds and even a saint riding on the back of a crocodile.

The services commemorating the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi typically include a reading of a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode by St. Francis to God's living things, which recognizes the relationship between the earth, the moon, humanity and all animal life.

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