THURSDAY, JANUARY 17: Attention, animals: Come one, come all, on the Feast of St. Anthony! Several branches of Christianity may recognize St. Anthony, but no group marks today’s feast quite like Hispanic Catholics—with their elaborately dressed animals in tow. For hundreds of years, Latino Catholics have brought decorated cattle, pigs, livestock, cats, dogs and other domestic pets to church for an official St. Anthony’s blessing. Tradition has it that this 3rd century saint bore a unique connection with animals.
Wait, you say—isn’t the animal blessing ceremony performed in October?
For many—yes. The majority of Christian churches perform animal blessings on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, which falls in October. Yet despite having preceded St. Francis by more than 900 years, St. Anthony is much less renowned than the later saint.
The year was 251 CE when St. Anthony (the Abbot) was born in Egypt. This early saint led a posh lifestyle until his parents’ death 18 years later; St. Anthony then sought a different life, giving away his inherited fortune, placing his sister among the nuns and following a local hermit himself. Though ascetics had existed before him, St. Anthony would become known for being the first to live in the wilderness, amongst only animals and nature—completely cut off from human civilization. (Wikipedia has details.)
As the years passed, St. Anthony ventured further into isolation, eventually taking root in a fort where a small crevice, just large enough for food to come through, was his only means of access to visitors. Miraculously, it was upon his final departure from this fort that local villagers found Anthony spiritually refreshed, healthy and enlightened; not insane or wasted away, as they had expected. This event earned St. Anthony a place among legends.
It’s with irony that St. Anthony, the extreme ascetic, is known for spreading monasticism: the hundreds of men and women who followed him into the desert became organized into loose communities. The story of St. Anthony took off in popularity when his biography, Life of St. Anthony, was translated into Latin not long after his death. It’s highly regarded that St. Anthony faced temptations from the devil while in the desert, and the Christian Church today points to this saint as a prime example of defending one’s soul from evil.
FROM NEW MEXICO TO MALTA
Across the globe today and this weekend, pets will march into churches beside owners for a blessing all their own. Author Diana L. Guerrero attests, on her blog, that pet-oriented services are on the increase. She also reports that people cross religious lines to find common ground with animals. From Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Xaghra, Malta, St. Anthony draws animal lovers from far and wide.
TO HOST ANIMAL CRISIS TALKS
Next month, Buckingham Palace is set to host discussions regarding the threat of extinction for several animal species—threats linked to a $12 billion illegal wildlife trade.
Fueling that trade are some wealthy Chinese buyers, these days. So, the Duke of Edinburgh will meet with China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs to discuss the wildlife crisis, backed by representatives of Taoist faith who previously banned the use of endangered species in remedies for its followers. (DNA India reports.) It’s reported that rhinoceros populations have fallen 90 percent since 1970, primarily due to illegal poaching for Chinese medicine; the world’s tiger population has fallen by 97 percent. Next month, the 91-year-old Duke will encourage the Chinese government to support the Taoists in bringing awareness to the incorrect use of traditional Chinese medicine.