By Karen Zautyk
Something new and lovely has been added to the front lawn at Sacred Heart Church on Belgrove Drive: a statue of St. Francis of Assisi.
On Saturday morning, it was dedicated and blessed by Msgr. John J. Gilchrist, as a small, fluffy and furry congregation watched. The dogs–and one cat–were there to be blessed, too, in the annual ceremony marking the feast day of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals.
The pets were all respectfully silent as they were sprinkled with holy water and the monsignor led their humans in a prayer to Our Heavenly Father:
“Give us the grace to see all animals as gifts from You and to treat them with respect, for they are Your creation. Be praised for giving us the animals that fill Your world.
“We pray for all animals. May we think of You and thank You when we care for our pets.
“We ask you, Lord, that we may be good to our pets always, so that they may be happy also. Help us always to take care of them so that they will be healthy. . . .”
St. Francis’ feast day is officially Oct. 4, but churches — both Catholic and Protestant — usually mark it on the weekend closest to the 4th. Along with his respect for animals and all nature, Francis is celebrated (a word he might not like used in conjunction with himself) for his simplicity and humility, and it was for those qualities that the current Pope chose his name.
One of the legends surrounding Francis tells of a time he was journeying through the Italian countryside when he and his companions found the roadside lined with trees filled with noisy, chirping birds. Francis stopped to preach to our feathered friends, and they all fell silent and none of them took wing until he was finished.
That story is one of the reasons the saint is frequently depicted – as in the new statue — holding a bird in the palm of his hand.
After the blessings, the monsignor and Sister Doris DeLotto gave us a preview of another addition to the Belgrove Drive property. Hidden behind the shrubs is a work-in-progress: a new garden, expected to be officially opened next spring.
“It will be a place of repose for people to come and quietly meditate,” Gilchrist said.
Stations of the Cross are already in place, but major landscaping remains to be done. Walkable pathways (replacing the uncomfortably stony ones previously on the site), flowers and shrubbery, benches and a fountain are to be installed. And, Gilchrist noted, landscapers will be donating grass. Located atop the cliff overlooking the Passaic, it promises to be a place of special beauty.
Said Sister Doris: “It will be like a little oasis of peace.”
And who couldn’t use a bit of that?