“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission -- to be of service to them wherever they require it.” - St. Francis of Assisi, on Animals
This last Saturday I had the incredible privilege of being able to attend and photograph Perfect Paw's Pet Ministry's 12th Annual Blessing of the Animals, led by Fran Weil and and Rev. Marya DeCarlen of All Saints Episcopal Church of the North Shore.
More than 150 people attended, bringing 87 dogs and 1 cat!
The Origins of the Tradition
October 4 is the feast day for Saint Francis of Assisi, an Italian Catholic friar and preacher from the 13th Century. Sainted by Pope Gregory IX in 1228, Saint Francis is the patron Saint of animals and the environment. Churches in the Anglican, Catholic, and Episcopalian traditions conduct a "Blessing of the Animals" each year on his feast day, in his honor. Much of the legends around Saint Francis concern his great love of nature and animals, and in turn, the animals great respect for him.
The Legend of the Wolf of Gubbio
Paraphrased from the story sourced from www.tamingthewolf.com
There was in Italy the town of Gubbio, a prosperous village that had a great problem. A wolf was eating their livestock, and attacking the people...
The mayor of Gubbio announced he would send three of his best guards to find and slay the wolf that very afternoon. At dusk the townspeople could hear shouts and clashing of metal from the woods. Then it was quiet. The guards had met the wolf. Only one survived.
Francis was moved by their plight and wanted to do what he could. He said they could leave in the morning and they should eat and rest with his Brothers that night. After dinner they prayed with Francis for a solution and slept that night with hope in their hearts.
Francis listened as the mayor described what had happened to their peaceful town. He had much empathy for the families of the victims and wanted to meet the wolf and hear his story, too. Francis stated that the next morning he would go the woods where the guards had been killed to see if he could find the wolf. That night he prayed for the wisdom to find a solution that would benefit everyone.
So, the next morning, he walked into the woods.
Seeing the wolf, Francis felt a connection. He made the sign of the cross and called the wolf to meet him in peace under the grace of the Lord. The wolf watched as Francis came closer. “Come Brother Wolf, I will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace.” The wolf froze in mid step. The wolf struggled with doubt and uncertainty. Finally, understanding that Francis meant him no harm, the wolf walked to Francis and sat back on his haunches, ready to listen.
Francis asked the wolf. “Why did you kill the livestock and people?”
The wolf told Francis his story. He had been left behind by his pack because he was injured and couldn’t keep up. He could only catch prey that didn’t run fast, like sheep and goats. He really preferred to eat deer and rabbits, but, with his injured leg, that was out of the question. He explained to Francis that all he wanted was to eat when he was hungry.
Francis could see that the wolf was only acting to fill his needs. He convinced the wolf to go back to the town with him, so that he could atone for his sins. The wolf reluctantly agreed.
When they reached the gate, the townsfolk were alarmed, but curious. Francis told them the wolf’s story. “He has the same needs as you and only wants to eat and not go hungry. Can the people of Gubbio feed him if he promises to never again take the lives of the people and their animals? Remember, our Savior taught forgiveness. He taught us to love our enemies.”
From that day on, the wolf was called "Brother Wolf."
The Blessing of the Animals
"The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man." - Charles Darwin
For All Saints Episcopal Church of the North Shore, the inclusion of animals in sacred services isn't only a once per year occurrence. In fact, you can bring your furry loved ones to a unique service held during the evenings of the third Sunday of each month, to enjoy a ministry created especially for them. The Ministry also offers Pet Bereavement counseling by a certified counselor.
The truth is, our pets are our family, and it's such a joy to see them being respected in the way that they deserve.