Every year on or around October 4, Christians throughout the world celebrate the Feast of St. Francis with animal blessing services held throughout the United States and many other countries around the world.

Blessings of animals took place for varying reasons, throughout Christian history, but the growth of these rituals beginning in the late twentieth century is dramatic.  Now thousands, of these blessings take place annually. Probably the largest such blessing in the United States would be at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.  They host the Feast of St. Francis each year and even include the Holy Eucharist and Procession of Animals presided over by the Bishop of New York.

Hopeful participants arrive with their pets as early as 7 a.m. to wait in a line that spreads several city blocks.  At the 11 a.m. worship service the cathedral fills to its 3,500-person, standing-room-only capacity for the Feast of St. Francis ritual.

So who is St. Francis and what makes him the patron saint to animals?

Born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in Italy in late 1181 or early 1182. He was one of several children of a French mother and an Italian father.  His father was a prosperous silk merchant. Indulged by his parents, Francis lived the high-spirited life and spent money lavishly.  After a wild youth and a brief career as a soldier, Francis renounced his family’s wealth and devoted his life to God. His dedication to poverty, humility, obedience, patience and compassion soon attracted followers and, in 1209, he received permission from Pope Innocent III to form a new religious order known as the Friars Minor (commonly called the Franciscans).

Francis’ deep love of God overflowed into love for all God’s creatures, expressed not only in his tender care of lepers but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for all of creation, from nature, to animals to all humankind. He believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters” under God.  He was said to have spoken with animals and preached to birds who remained quiet and attentive even when people were not. Story had it that St. Francis persuaded a wolf to stop attacking some locals if they agreed to feed the wolf.

St. Francis was so Holy, that he received stigmata (Wounds Of Christ) on his hands. He is considered by many the most Christ-like man to have ever lived, since Christ Himself. At the end of his life, he lived simply in rustic accommodations and communed with the wildlife. He is the patron saint of animals AND of the environment

On October 4, 1226, Francis died in the town of Assisi and was quickly canonized by Pope Gregory IX. Today, over three million people a year make a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Francis, revealing him to be one of the most popular and beloved saints of all time.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Palm Coast will be hosting a pet blessing Saturday October 1 at 10:00am and we will be there with adoptable pets, so come visit and be blessed!

Amy Wade-Carotenuto is the Executive Director at Flagler Humane Society and can be reached at acarotenuto@flaglerhumanesociety.org. Flagler Humane Society is a 501(c)(3) not-for- profit organization founded in 1980. For more information go to www.flaglerhumanesociety.org