Christian: Give Fido a hug on St. Francis Day

Pet blessing ceremonies are common on St. Francis Day. St. Francis of Assisi is well known for his respect for nature and all animals.TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4: Whether you love your pet or are a passionate advocate for the environment, take heed of today’s honored saint—it’s St. Francis of Assisi. After a youth of wealth, St. Francis gave up his privileges for a dramatic Christian vocation that led through poverty, imprisionment and illness. Intense prayer strengthened the young St. Francis, despite the scorn and abuse he endured. (AmericanCatholic has more.)

Francis devoted himself fully to his vocation—and he saw immense beauty in all of nature and God’s creations. Most Americans associate St. Francis with garden statues, and the association is appropriate: St. Francis referred to every animal as “brother” or “sister.”

Even those without pets or the desire to “go green” can admire today’s saint, though: Popular tradition holds that St. Francis built the first Christmas manger scene and was the first human to suffer the stigmata. (Wikipedia has details.) Sometime around 1220 CE, St. Francis constructed a three-dimensional nativity scene with live animals and hay, in hopes that Christmas worshippers would fully immerse their senses in the reality of Jesus’ birth. Approximately four years later, St. Francis was in the midst of a 40-day Michaelmas fast when he had a vision that led to the stigmata. The experience was described and written down by Brother Leo, a man who had been with St. Francis during the time of his stigmatic experience. According to Brother Leo, a seraph, or a six-winged angel on a cross, came and “gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ.” A short lifespan left St. Francis on the Earth only 44 years, but his legacy includes the worldwide Franciscan order.


The most common sight now associated with St. Francis Day, of course, is pets—lots of pets, prancing into churches across the country! In commemoration of Francis’ love for animals, churches welcome pets today and many hold a “Blessing of the Pets” ceremony. (The Humane Society is offering a 2011 “St. Francis Day in a Box,” in hopes that users will consider issues St. Francis would face in this century. Click here to learn more.) Among many animal-related stories involving St. Francis: He once made the sign of the cross over a wolf that was terrorizing a town, and the wolf lay at his feet as he made a pact for peace with the wolf. Francis’ legacy includes his own poetry celebrating God’s natural world.

St. Francis of Assisi was pronounced a saint just two years after his death.

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