Blessed be the animals

Photo by Karen Zautyk/ Msgr. John Gilchrist officiates at Feast of St. Francis ceremony on Saturday in Kearny.


By Karen Zautyk

This weekend, in anticipation of the Oct. 4 Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, churches — both Catholic and Protestant — held Blessings of the Animals. On Saturday morning, we attended the first annual ceremony at Sacred Heart Church (the former Boystown church) on Belgrove Drive. Presiding cleric was Msgr. John Gilchrist.
Someone had warned us to expect a noisy event, with lots of yipping and yapping, but the congregation of pets gathered on the front lawn — many canines but just one cat — was surprisingly quiet.
It reminded us of the story of St. Francis preaching to the birds, chirping flocks of which had filled the trees but fell silent when he began to speak. Msgr. Gilchrist recounted that story in a chat prior to the program and also told us the tale of the rosebush that instantly shed its thorns when Francis stumbled and fell into its branches. “He was one with nature,” the monsignor said.
That rosebush is at the cathedral in Assisi, as is a nest of doves high in the rafters. There is always at least one bird occupying it, said Sr. Doris, another blessing attendee. If the dove flies off, another takes its place. The nest is said to have been continuously occupied for centuries.
Long before there was a Horse Whisperer or a Dog Whisperer, St. Francis was communing with the animals. He is their patron saint, and today he has also come to be called the patron saint of the environment.
The blessing bestowed upon the animals at the Kearny ceremony was a prayer for their health and that we humans, who were placed on this earth “to be the stewards of all living things,” care for them and treat them with respect, for they are God’s creations.
Even if you are a nonbeliever, the message of respect for the birds and the beasts and the now-threatened environment humankind shares with them, is worthy of hearing. And heeding.

(Editor’s note: Next year, we hope to see more felines at the ceremony. Cats, though they may deny it, are in need of blessing too.) 

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