By Karen Zautyk
If you were out and about Saturday morning, you know that the rains were torrential — biblical, one might say. But this did not deter pet owners from gathering at the Archdiocesan Youth Center (formerly Boystown) for the annual Blessing of the Animals. (We expected to see some ducks, since it was nice weather for them, but none attended.)
Various events in Observer towns were postponed because of the downpour, but we knew this particular one would go on on rain or shine.
A large canopy was erected on the Belgrove Drive property to protect the pets and people who huddled there.
And despite the deluge, this was a place of warmth and brightness, for it is a joy to be among humans who care so much for their non-human companions.
As he does each year, Msgr. John Gilchrist presided at the ceremony, which took place near the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is Oct. 4.
Many churches, both Catholic and Protestant, hold similar programs on or around that date.
To Catholics, St. Francis has for centuries been known as the patron saint of animals, and in 1979, he got an additional assignment when Pope John Paul II declared him patron saint of ecology/ the environment. (By the way, one of the pets at the blessing was a cat called John Paul. “Yes, he’s named for the Pope,” his human companion noted.)
The annual blessing is a reminder not only of St. Francis’ love for God’s creatures, but also that they are, indeed, God’s creatures and that they have been placed in mankind’s care. It is our duty to be their stewards, be they the pets who share our homes or the wild beasts and birds and fish, et al, who share our world.
As the communal prayer preceding the actual blessing noted, God has given humankind rule over His works, including: “All sheep and oxen, yes, and animals of the field, the birds of the air, the fishes of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas.”
The prayer of blessing notes that God “created the world to serve humanity’s needs” and asks: “Give us the grace to see all animals as gifts from You and to treat them with respect for they are Your creation.”
And then, all the little gifts who were on Belgrove Drive were brought forward by their owners to be sprinkled with holy water. (We have attended several of these programs in the past, and it has always amazed us that even the barkiest dogs went quiet when the ceremony began.)
Afterwards, goody bags of pet food and treats were distributed to the attendees, who then headed home through all the rain.
As we were leaving, we glanced toward the Passaic River at the foot of the hill. We can’t be sure, but we think we saw an ark down there.