This weekend, churches around the world will host a Blessing of the Animals service. Animals of every kind, including family pets, will be presented to clergy for a blessing.
The Blessing of the Animals is an annual event, begun almost 800 years ago, commemorating the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is the patron saint for animals, and Oct. 3 marks the date of his death in 1226. The Blessing of the Animals is celebrated on Oct. 4 around the world in remembrance of him.
He was only 44 years old when he died, but boy did he ever do a lot for animals in those 44 years. In fact, he may have been the original animal rights activist and animal whisperer, for all we know. He was an advocate for nature, the environment and ecology as well.
He was born in Italy in 1181 to a wealthy family. After years of enjoying the luxury of his family’s wealth, he abandoned that lifestyle to live in poverty. He discovered he had an abounding love for animals and the environment, and he would spend his life as an advocate for them.
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St. Francis truly loved animals, and they loved him. He knew they mattered. He brought attention to their need for protection and for the important role they play in our lives. He had an uncanny ability to communicate with them and to calm them.
The most famous story about St. Francis and his ability to tame wild animals is an amazing account of how he became aware of a vicious wolf in Gubbio. The wolf was so ravenous that he was aggressively killing animals and people. The townspeople attempted to slay the wolf but were unsuccessful. They were living in extreme fear.
So St. Francis set out to find the wolf. Despite warnings from the townspeople, St. Francis began his journey to look for him anyway.
Soon he encountered the angry wolf that charged out of the woods at St. Francis. It was then that he spoke a word of peace and love to the wolf that then submitted.
St. Francis took the wolf back to the town to make a pact with the people in Gubbio. The townspeople agreed to feed the wolf every day, and the wolf agreed not to attack the people or the animals. They agreed they could live in peace together.
For the next two years the wolf would go door to door for food from the people. Everyone kept their promise and lived in harmony with the wolf until he died of old age. The townspeople who had become accustomed to interacting with the wolf were saddened by his death.
The pact between the wolf and the people symbolized the ability to live in harmony with nature. It also represented the responsibility to care for the needs of all creatures.
St. Francis was canonized a saint only two years after his death. His good works were recognized, and his legacy of teaching the need to care for animals continues today.
As we celebrate the feast day of St. Francis, this is the perfect weekend to give thanks for the animals, your pets and especially those homeless pets that have yet to experience the love of a family.
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