By Michael J. ARVIZU, Mary O’KEEFE, Charly SHELTON
He was born into a rich family, but begged with the beggars on the streets of Rome.
He fought for his homeland and considered a career in the military as a young man in his 20s, but returned home to seek prayer and solitude.
Thus is the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, known by Christians the world over as a lover of nature and patron saint of animals, ecology, Italy and merchants, according to the Franciscan online magazine “American Catholic.”
And in what could be considered an extension of St. Francis’ enduring love of animals, churches around the world commemorate his feast day every year by organizing a special blessing just for parishioners’ four-legged furry, scaly, or feathered human companions.
Locally, St. James the Less and Holy Redeemer parishes held a blessing of the animals on Oct. 4 at St. James. St. George’s Episcopal Church in La Cañada and St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church in La Crescenta held blessings on Oct. 7.
St. Luke’s had a variety of animals, and their pet parents, attend Sunday service.
Snakes, dogs, cats and even a couple of turtles and a rat gathered in the church courtyard to be blessed by Bryan Jones, St. Luke’s vicar. Each pet was blessed in the name of St. Francis that the owners may care for their pets with the same love that God cares for the world. Jones reminded those in attendance that the pet parents provide a service to God in caring for these pets.
The service concluded with a coffee hour reception including biscuits and treats for the animals.
Rev. Amy Pringle at St. George’s told stories of St. Francis, his kindness toward animals and his outreach to others.
“St. Francis is all about peace. You are going to hear today a lot of prayers and music that are attributed to St. Francis about peace and the unity of humanity and how we are all united in one creation as all of God’s creatures,” Pringle told those gathered at an outdoor Sunday service.
Creatures great and small all lined up for a blessing and could even join in communion with dog treats in place of bread.
In addition to the blessings, a table was set up for donations for Meatball, the Crescenta Valley bear that is now living at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine, Calif. The animal rescue facility is raising money to build a larger habitat for bears. Their goal is $250,000, at present they are at $80,000. (For information on how to contribute, visit www.promplus.org and click on Meatball.)
Born Giovanni Bernardone into a wealthy family, St. Francis was born in Assisi, a town in the Italian region of Umbria, in the 12th century AD. The Order of Friars Minor is a Franciscan brotherhood inspired by the example of St. Francis, but it is perhaps the stories of St. Francis and his communion with animals that is best known.
“He was a creationist. He thought all living things reflected the wholeness and goodness of God,” said St. George Parish Administrator Deacon Anthony Keller. “This tradition, then, as the centuries progressed, began with the blessing of the animals. St. Francis believed that God is found in all living things.”