Animals receive blessings, too

FRESNO, Calif. —Some parishioners' requests for special blessings aren't always for themselves or even for people they know. They're for pets — cats, turtles, hamsters, lizards, horses, you name it.

Therese Quinn, 15, of Hanford, Calif., for example, has asked for blessings for her parakeet Early Bird, her dog Molly and her rabbit Mr. Shnookems for a long time.

And, she'll do it again when she brings her caged and leashed pets to St. Brigid Catholic Church's annual Blessing of the Pets and Animals today. The event is held in the Hanford church's parking lot.

"It's really kind of exciting for me to know we're getting our animals blessed," Therese says. "It's kind of a reminder that God has given animals as special gifts to us."

The special service to bless animals is held in early October to coincide with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, which is Oct. 4 this year. Roman Catholicism teaches St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment. In the 1200s he led a movement back to poverty, venturing into the forest — where he befriended animals — to live a simple life.

At St. Brigid, a stained-glass window shows an image of St. Francis of Assisi wearing a burgundy robe and carrying a gold cross.

"We, as Catholics, like to bless things — cars, houses, whatever we use," says St. Brigid's pastor, the Rev. Michael Moore. "We enjoy the things in this life, but we always remember that God is the one who provides them. So having things blessed, we're reminded of our dependence on God. We ask his blessing on all the activities and things in our lives — that they might go well."

That includes the lives of animals, he says.

Although a long tradition in Roman Catholic churches, the service to bless animals also has been adopted by other denominations.

Depending on the church's beliefs, the services can vary. Generally, a priest reads the biblical account in Genesis 1 on how God created the animals on land, the birds in the air, the fish in the sea — and blessed them.

The priest also reads a psalm, usually Psalm 8, which praises God for his creations. Then the priest walks by the animals, saying a prayer of blessing and sprinkling them with holy water.

"We kind of walk close by them all, so the kids don't feel anyone's left out," Moore says.

Moore has visited parishioners' dairy farms — blessing the cows that "they might be productive" — and stables of horses.

At St. Brigid, not all the animals are recognizable to Moore.

"There was something in a cage — and I don't know if it was a ferret, hamster, whatever," he remembers. "Sometimes, you see things like that."

Moore also prepares himself with a box of tissues close by — in case he sneezes.

He's allergic to cat and dog hair.

"It's OK, but I don't own any pets," he says. "The joy is the excitement I see, especially in the children with their parents."

Therese's mother, Colette, says she is grateful that St. Brigid provides an opportunity for parishioners to understand that God's protection extends also to animals.

She bought a St. Francis medal for Molly to wear around her dog collar. One side reads: "St. Francis of Assisi, Protect my dog." The other reads: "All praise be yours, my Lord, for all creatures large and small."