By Michael J. ARVIZU
On a beautiful and bright sunny morning at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church in La Crescenta, the 10 a.m. service ended up going to the cats and dogs (and one parakeet) as the church held its fourth annual Blessing of the Animals in celebration of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.
Revered in the Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches, the feast day of St. Francis falls on Oct. 3. Blessings of animals take place at churches worldwide during this time, in commemoration of Francis’ devotion to the living creatures around him.
At St. Luke’s, residents and church members were invited to bring their four- or two-legged companions to receive a blessing, imparted by St. Luke’s Vicar Father Bryan Jones.
“My animal is part of my family. To come and have it blessed is just a continuation of the blessing of my family,” said St. Luke’s of the Mountains Church member Paulette Mills.
St. Francis is also known for his devotion to the poor and infirm, and his endless dedication to preaching the Gospel. The online Catholic magazine, American Catholic, describes St. Francis as a “poor little man who astounded and inspired the church by taking the Gospel literally — not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did.”
Tradition holds that Francis was not only kind to animals, but he also preached to them, said Jones, and legends about him abound. One such legend describes how Francis convinced a ravenous wolf to stop eating the townspeople and sheep in exchange for daily feedings.
Today, the Order of Friars Minor (or OFM) 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 are best known.
This is the second year that church member Billie Hester has brought her rambunctious Boston terrier, Toby, to be blessed. She feels it is appropriate to have Toby blessed because all animals are representatives of God, and “they’re loved by God. They represent his love,” Hester said.
“As a person of faith, it’s a celebration of St. Francis,” said St. Luke’s Church member Mary Manning, who brought her 13-year-old Belgian tervuren to be blessed on Sunday. “It’s a lovely thing. Francis loved people and animals. Why should we not do the same?”
St. Francis is also the patron saint of ecology, merchants and the country of Italy. 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 tradition is that we bless animals on his day, because of his love of animals and all creation,” said Jones.