St. Francis of Assisi: Pet blessings, ecology and the patron saint of animals

“He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.”

Archbishop and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
(better known as Pope Francis)

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4: Coast to coast, a small but growing number of churches host autumn pet blessings, honoring St. Francis of Assisi whose official holiday falls on a Wednesday this year. If you are looking for Francis-themed services in your area, check local news sources or congregational websites in your area.

The United Methodist Church’s website offers resources for pet blessings with instructions similar to many mainline denominations—that is, to be used anytime or as close to the October 4 feast day as congregations may find practical.

St. Francis of Assisi certainly is one of the world’s most widely revered saints, especially since the current pope, when elected in 2013, publicly chose Francis’ name and promoted his spiritual example. Mainly associated with concern for animals and the environment, St. Francis of Assisi lived only into his mid 40s, but made a unique impression upon the world. St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order. He also is widely credited with creating the first crèche, or Christmas Nativity Scene. He constantly tried, however possible, to imitate what Jesus had said and done.


Born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, St. Francis was born 1181/1182 CE in Assisi, Italy. Nicknamed “Francesco,” for “Frenchman,” Giovanni’s father desired for his son to share a love of the materials trade, silk and acquired wealth. Though sympathy for the poor was evident in his childhood, it wasn’t until he became a young man that Francis began to question his way of life.

Despite his father’s threats and beatings, Francis began preaching in the streets. Followers came to him, and the group known as “Lesser Brothers” claimed no material possessions. (Wikipedia has details.) In 1210, Francis’ Order was officially approved by Pope Innocent III. Later, Francis founded the Order of Poor Clares—an enclosed religious order for women—and the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance. In 1224, while praying during a 40-day fast for Michaelmas, Francis had a vision of the Exaltation of the Cross and received the stigmata. (Learn more from

St. Francis believed that nature was the mirror of God. In his Canticle of Creatures, St. Francis refers to “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon” and even “Sister Death.” The saint called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” with stories written of his preaching to the birds and convincing a wolf to stop attacking nearby villagers if they agreed to feed him.

Francis died of illness in 1226, and in July 1228—less than two years after his death—he was proclaimed a saint.


Many Christian groups offer online samples for pet blessings. The United Methodist website is linked above. Here’s a link to materials from the Episcopal Church. Another popular source is Let All Creation Praise, a website with eco-friendly Christian themes. The Humane Society of the United States also offers many free, online St. Francis-related stories and resources, including on this page within the HSUS website.

Advent: Christians begin season of hope, anticipate birth of Christ

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 29: Advent begins today for over a billion Western Christians, as the Church enters a new liturgical year and begins the season whose lighted wreaths and prayers anticipate the birth of Jesus.

On each of the four Sundays leading to Christmas, Christians light a new candle on the Advent wreath: three purple, and one rose-colored one. The rose-colored candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, and in some churches, a white pillar candle in the middle of the wreath is lit in Christmas Eve. (Note: In Protestant churches, Advent candles are often red, and in Anglican and Lutheran churches, they are typically blue.) Many congregations are draped in purple or blue, symbolizing hope and repentance. During Advent, Christians look to both Christ’s ancient birth and the Second Coming.

Note: Eastern Christians began the Nativity Fast—a strict, 40-day fast leading to the Nativity—on November 15.

Advent calendars have rapidly been gaining popularity in recent years, even amongst secular Christmas celebrants: Star Wars, candy-filled and even LEGO Advent calendars are filling store shelves in 2015. Still, traditionally faithful families may fashion their own Advent wreaths of evergreens and candles. Jesse Trees, used in many churches to provide necessary items for the needy during the season, have also been steadily gaining popularity.

Interested in making a DIY Advent wreath? Find information on making a base, candle-holders, greens and more at Catholic Culture.

Blessings for the Advent wreath can be found at the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


DECEMBER 9, 1965—Millions of Americans are celebrating the Golden Anniversary of the Peanuts Christmas special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, which debuted this week in 1965.

The TV special was a major cultural milestone—the first ever Peanuts TV special and a model for a host of other animated specials that followed it. The production broke so many accepted rules—including a decision to leave off the then-standard “laugh track”—that everyone involved with the special thought it would be a disaster. That is, until the show aired and half of all American TV viewers watched it! Reviewers crowed about its delightful innovations!

One decision that Charles Schulz and the producers felt would be controversial—and turned out to be very popular with viewers—was the decision to have Linus read from the King James Version of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 through 14. Contrary to some media reports about the program, today, biblical lines had appeared in other Christmas TV specials in that era. But a recent study of media in the mid-1960s concludes that such biblical lines were rare on network TV—and almost no one read as much as Linus delivered in his monologue from Luke. In Schulz’s version of the show’s history, he insisted that no other network TV cartoons had dared to include scripture, which appears to be accurate.

Honors for the pioneering TV special began in 1966, when A Charlie Brown Christmas was awarded the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program. In accepting the gold-colored statuette, Schulz joked: “Charlie Brown is not used to winning, so we thank you.” The program was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” American sound recordings in 2012. Then, to mark the 50th anniversary, the US Postal Service issued a colorful set of “Forever” stamps celebrating the Christmas special.



At a time when the world is at war, the Catholic Church’s leader has stated that, “God weeps.” (The Telegraph reported.) While lights, parties, trees and nativity scenes are abundant, the Pontiff regards:

It’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path. There are wars everywhere, and hate. We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. … War can be ‘justified’ for many reasons. But when the whole world is at war, as it is today … there is no justification.


Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday: Christians mourn, prepare

THURSDAY, APRIL 2 and FRIDAY, APRIL 3 and SATURDAY, APRIL 4: Holy Week for the world’s 2 billion Christians began several days ago with Palm Sunday, but the week’s events culminate with the start of Maundy Thursday. For three days, Christians will perform centuries-old rituals and review the final events in the life of Jesus. From foot washing to the Stations of the Cross, Christians lament the tragic events of Jesus’ final days. With prayer and fasting, the faithful prepare for the most joyous holiday of the year: Easter, the Resurrection of Christ.

News on Pope Francis and Holy Week: Following on his two-year anniversary as pope, Francis remains phenomenally popular in the Catholic Church. The most recent Pew Forum poll ranked his approval rating among American Catholics at 90 percent, and this Holy Week, Pope Francis will not disappoint: He will begin the Easter Triduum by traveling to a prison in Rome to wash the feet of 12 inmates.

On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis declared to the thousands present at St. Peter’s Square that Holy Week is about humility—and that the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week so holy. (Read the story at Catholic News Agency.) Further, Pope Francis encouraged crowds to mimic this attitude of humility throughout the week, as “Only this way will this week be holy for us, too!” Pope Francis also gave examples of modern Christians who give selflessly and refuse to deny Jesus.

This week, Pope Francis will conduct a Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday; visit a Roman prison for foot-washing Thursday evening; head a service for the Passion of Our Lord at St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, and lead thousands in the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum; conduct the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday; and celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter.

Note: For Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar, Palm Sunday 2015 will take place on Friday, April 5, and Holy Week will commence that week. Pascha (Easter) will fall on Sunday, April 12.


The Easter Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles. As Jewish days begin at sunset, most Maundy Thursday services take place in the evening. Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. (Wikipedia has details.) Following the Maundy Thursday service, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Did you know? On Holy Thursday, the Catholic Chrism Mass is celebrated in each diocese, during which holy oils are blessed. The blessed oils are used on Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil and for baptisms and confirmations.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Malta, seven churches are visited on this single day; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries, including Costa Rica, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain and Venezuela. (Fish Eaters has information on popular customs and more.) At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.


While in the Garden of Gesthemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and eventually to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion.

Did you know? Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday of 1865.

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated. (Readings for the day are available from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

The Way of the Cross takes place at the Colosseum in Rome and in many other places around the world. In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.


Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. The altar remains bare, or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. (Wikipedia has details.) In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

At approximately 6 p.m. on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. (For families with children too young to attend a late Saturday Mass, Women for Faith and Family suggests at-home activities.) The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.