Today (Oct. 4) is World Animal Day. Every year, it’s a time when shelters strut their stuff and hold fundraisers, people share zillions of animal images over social networks (oh, wait, that’s every day, isn’t it?) and when the Blessing of the Animals takes place in cities and towns all over the world.
To be honest, I’d forgotten about World Animal Day until I read a story about a rabbi’s blessing of cats at an Australian shelter.
Although reverence for and worship of animals had been a part of religious traditions all over the world, it seems like Christians didn’t hop on the animal-loving bandwagon until the time of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who became known as the patron saint of animals. According to a book by Thomas of Celano, one of the saint’s contemporaries, Francis loved all animals and believed that religious faith and care for all God’s creatures go hand in hand.
Despite Catholics’ reverence for St. Francis of Assisi (he is one of the most beloved saints among Catholics and is the namesake of one of the two dominant orders in the Catholic Church), blessing of animals really wasn’t a thing until the early 20th century, when the church began organizing blessings of animals in Rome, on St. Francis’ Day.
Fast forward about 30 years: The first Catholic blessing of animals in the U.S., in honor of St. Anthony rather than St. Francis, took place in the Olvera Street area of Los Angeles some time in the 1930s.
Now churches and synagogues all over the world hold Blessing of the Animals ceremonies, most commonly on the Sunday closest to Oct. 4. Some services are multidenominational, with priests, rabbis, and leaders of many different religions. Some are nondenominational and held by independent chaplains.
Whoever is involved, the fact that the Blessing of the Animals has become so incredibly popular and so loved by people of all religions — and nonreligions — speaks volumes about the widespread recognition of animals as a part of creation just as deserving of love and compassion as our fellow human beings.
That is something to be joyful about, no matter whether you’re a faithful member of a religion, a spiritual person who doesn’t claim any particular religious affiliation, an agnostic, or an atheist.
Have you been to a Blessing of the Animals ceremony? Do you plan to go this weekend? What was it like? Was there anything about it that particularly surprised you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.