Saint Francis of Assisi was a Catholic deacon and preacher in the early 13th century who became known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. St. Francis founded the “Order of the Friars Minor,” more commonly known as the Franciscans, which currently has more than 20,000 religious members throughout the world. St. Francis died on October 3, 1226 and his “feast day” is celebrated by Catholics on Oct. 4.
Many of the stories about the life of St. Francis focus on his love for animals and nature. We often associate him with our feathered friends and many garden statues of St. Francis depict him with a bird in his hand or on his shoulder.
One of the most well known stories about St. Francis illustrates his humility towards nature and his particular love for the birds. The legend is that one day while Francis was traveling, he and his companions saw trees by the side of the road that were filled with birds of all types. He asked his companions to wait for him while he preached to the birds. When St. Francis walked among the trees and started talking, the birds surrounded him and none of them flew away. It is said that from that day forward, St. Francis made it a habit to ask all living creatures to show praise and love for their creator. Throughout his lifetime, there are numerous stories of St. Francis speaking to the animals.
Christians everywhere, not only those of the Catholic faith, celebrate the Feast of St. Francis by taking their pets to church to have them blessed in the spirit of this beloved patron saint of the animals. These blessing services are most often held outside. Members of the community are invited to bring their pets to be blessed by a minister of the church. Individuals with pets who might not do well in this type of setting are asked to come and bring a photo of their pet to be blessed. Many blessing services also including the reading of the names of pets who have died during the year.
A number of churches utilize the blessing service as an opportunity to perform community outreach – asking attendees to bring dog or cat food to distribute to families in need or supplies for local rescue organizations. Some churches have taken the “blessing” a step further and added a pet fair for the community to celebrate our companion animals and increase awareness of the benefits of pets in our lives.
Click here to read more about the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi.
What One Person Can Do: Resources for Individuals (from the Best Friends Outreach Library).