By Mary O’KEEFE
Many churches in the area, and around the world, in October are celebrating the Blessing of the Animals.
Oct. 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan orders of the Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare and the lay Third Order. His evangelical zeal, consecration to poverty, charity and personal charisma drew thousands of followers, according to Britannica.
St. Francis was baptized Giovanni and renamed Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone. He was born around 1181/1182 and died on Oct. 2, 1226. He was canonized by the Catholic Church on July 16, 1228.
St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and in 1979 Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis the patron saint of ecology. In his life St. Francis had been a soldier and a prisoner of war. Though he came from a wealthy family when he turned his life to God he walked away from all worldly possessions.
He is thought of as the patron saint of animals and ecology due to his teachings, which revealed his beliefs that religious faith and care for God’s creation and creatures go hand-in-hand. He was known for ministering and preaching to animals.
“One time as [Francis] was passing through the Spoleto Valley, he came upon a place near Bevagna in which a great multitude of birds of various kinds had assembled. When the holy one of God saw them, because of the outstanding love of the Creator with which he loved all creatures, he ran swiftly to the place. He greeted them in his usual way, as if they shared in reason. As the birds did not take flight, he went to them, going to and fro among them, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic. Meanwhile his joy and wonder increased as he carefully admonished them to listen to the Word of God: ‘My brother birds, you should greatly praise your Creator and love Him always. He clothed you with feathers and gave you wings for flying. Among all His creatures He made you free and gave you the purity of the air. You neither sow nor reap, He nevertheless governs you without your least care.’
“At these words, the birds gestured a great deal, in their own way. They stretched their necks, spread their wings, opened their beaks and looked at him. They did not leave the place until, having made the sign of the cross, he blessed them and gave them permission. On returning to the brothers he began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to the birds before. From that day on, he carefully exhorted birds and beasts and even insensible creatures to praise and love the Creator,” according to writings by Thomas of Celano in the 1200s and a follower of St. Francis. This is also printed on the website of the Humane Society of the U.S.
During the outdoor service on Sunday at St. Luke’s of the Mountains, Vicar Guy Leemhuis spoke of the companionship animals give humans, and how taking care of them is part of God’s service.
Though it was only dogs brought to St. Luke’s on Sunday by pet parents in the past there have been iguanas and birds that also received blessings. All creatures are welcome at the table.
For those who missed Sunday’s service, Lutheran Church in the Foothills, 1700 Foothill Blvd. in La Cañada, will offer a Blessing of the Animals on Oct. 23. Well-behaved pets can come to worship service. Alternatively, pets can receive a blessing after the service. All are welcome to attend the event, which will include a petting zoo on the front lawn and a potluck lunch. Anyone interested in contributing a dish should contact the church’s office by email at or call (818) 790-1951.