By Lauren Means
The bond between pets and their owners is undeniable. It goes deeper than the surface and can be a spiritual connection. No one seemed to know this more than St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, was born in Italy around 1182. He was born to a wealthy cloth merchant and lived a life where he wanted for nothing. Through a series of events in his early adulthood, which included being a knight in war, becoming a war prisoner, illness, and many conflicts with his father over his generosity with the family’s money, he eventually turned to his faith and recognized the call to fulfill God’s wishes.
St. Francis tended to the poor, ill, and outcast but what many know him for is his great love for animals and the environment.
There are several stories about St. Francis and his interactions with animals but there’s one tale, the legend of the “Wolf of Gubbio,” which illustrates peace, grace, forgiveness, patience, and love for all creatures.
St. Francis was staying in the town of Gubbio where the townspeople were living in fear of a wolf that was killing both animals and people of the town. If anyone tried to stop the wolf, they would also perish.
St. Francis took it upon himself to approach the wolf without fear. He asked the wolf to make peace with the townspeople and told the wolf, in return, the townspeople would take care of it. From there forward, there was peace in Gubbio.
It’s because of these stories and interactions with animals, St. Francis is the patron saint of animals. It’s also why some churches hold a special celebration called the Blessing of Pets. This ceremony is conducted in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures.
During this service, there’s a procession of animals led to the church, a special prayer — “The Blessing of the Pets” — is offered, and each pet is sprinkled with holy water.
St. Francis’ Feast Day, the day a saint is remembered and celebrated in the Catholic or Episcopalian faith, is October 4. The Blessing of Pets is typically held on or around this day in October and there are churches in Middle Tennessee that normally hold this celebration.
Some of the churches that have participated in the past either by holding a blessing celebration or teaming up with another church to provide the service include Holy Trinity, Brookmeade Congregational Church, St. David’s Episcopal Church, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Second Presbyterian Church, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. Because of the ongoing changes due to COVID-19, please contact the individual churches prior to making plans for attendance.
“The Blessing of the Pets”
“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”