RANAU – Mass at St Peter Claver Church here was a colourful sea of snuggly animals, as over 200 people toted their favourite animals to be blessed on 4 Oct 2017, a long-time dream of Father Nicholas Stephen, the parish priest.
This scene of friends – furry and otherwise – was one of many throughout the world, as parishes celebrated St Francis’ feast day on Oct 4, in many places a week full of activities that included animal blessings, Transitus services, commemorations, festivals and special Masses.
The day before, the church celebrated the Transitus, remembering the death of St Francis. “Embracing Otherness” and “Engaging Francis” were the themes of some events that, in addition to honouring St Francis’ care for all creation, encouraged people to join social ministry projects and celebrate the colours, cultures and creeds of others, just as the patron saint would.
Fr Stephen used the opportunity to reflect on St Francis as the patron saint of ecology. He said, “Have you ever wondered why many churches offer a special blessing for animals on the feast of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology?”
He said, “People bring their pets for a blessing because they want to thank God for their non-human companions, for their friendship and beauty. But there is an even more important reason to bless animals, especially at this time of the unprecedented ecological crisis that we face. First, the blessing of animals reminds us that all creatures have been created and blessed by God. Their worth extends far beyond a mere commodity value that we humans ascribe to them. Second, the blessing of the animals offers us an opportunity to strengthen within us a sense of compassion for all God’s creatures. It can also reawaken in us our religious responsibility to protect them – much like Noah did – from a disaster.”
“In memory of the blessing of Francis, we give thanks, we simply give thanks, for gratitude is the memory of the heart.” Fr Stephen continued, “We thank those in all our ministries who have supported us and worked with us to help people (the poor, the missions, local works), and to pray that love will continue to live on in our lives and in our ministries as we fill our hearts with beautiful memories of Christ, of Francis, of Franciscan men and women whose work we continue into the next century.” – Friar Aiden Peter Jr OFM