Can you imagine taking your beloved dog, cat, parakeet, or iguana to your place of worship? In some parts of the world, including the United States, that’s just what happens at the annual blessing of the animals.
The practice supposedly began with St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian saint who was known for his love of all animals. St. Francis was so gentle and loving that legend has it he could preach to the birds without frightening them away and even convinced a marauding wolf to stop attacking villagers in one Italian town.
Since St. Francis’s feast day is in October, most of these celebrations take place in the fall; however, some parishes celebrate at different times during the year.
At the blessing of the animals, a priest or other religious leader leads a prayer that thanks God for the love and companionship that our pets give us. In addition, the prayer includes the need for all people to take responsibility as stewards of the earth’s resources – including pets and animals.
Although festivals at which animals are blessed are somewhat common in the Catholic and Anglican churches, other religions have similar celebrations. In the Jewish faith, these are jokingly referred to as “Bark Mitzvahs” or “Meow Mitzvahs.”
For more information about faith and animal friendship, check out this guide to blessings of animals.