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Friday was the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, and over the weekend many churches celebrated by holding Blessing of the Animals events in their communities.
“St. Francis [the patron saint of animals and the environment] is said to have had a special relationship with animals; there are miracles and wonders attributed to his ability to communicate with animals,” says Reverend Mary Foulke, a chaplain and senior associate at The Church of Saint Luke in the Field in New York City.
The Church of Saint Luke in the Field has held a Blessing of the Animals event, which consists of a service and post-service reception, for at least 20 years. People are welcome to bring their pets to the service where hymns are sung, prayers are said, and scriptures that celebrate all creation are read.
“[It’s] most wonderful to hear the dogs barking as we sing ‘Let All Things Their Creator Bless,’” says Foulke. “People and animals come forward to be blessed by the priests, [and there’s] a brief prayer for each animal.”
Tim Bailey for Vetstreet.com
Tim Bailey for Vetstreet.com
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Treats for animals and humans alike are offered at the post-service reception. Faulke says this year the church decided to partner with VCA Pet Food Pantry to give away 100 bags of dog and cat food to owners who might be struggling to in this economy to cover the cost of feeding their pets.
Cats and dogs are not the only pets brought to be blessed either. Ferrets are regularly brought to the blessing and in the past Faulke has even blessed a tarantula, her most challenging blessing to date. Children will sometimes bring their stuffed animals as well.
“It is quite moving when people bring animals who have been very ill recently and wish to give thanks for their health,” Faulke says. “There is always a great chorus of dogs — and, at least according to one parishioner, ‘The animals know they are in a church, in all the years we’ve been doing the service there has never been an accident.’”
While the Blessing of the Animals isn’t one of the church’s largest events, it is very popular, and according to Faulke attracts more non-Episcopalians and non-Christians than any other event.
“[It’s popular] because we as human beings sometimes forget the wonder of creation, the preciousness of the natural world,” Faulke says. “And because companion animals are so often a powerful source of unconditional love, which we do not acknowledge or celebrate enough.”
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