Animals blessed in tribute to St. Francis of Assisi
NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine
had a few unusual visitors Sunday -- an elephant, a camel, a
monkey and a pet pig among them.
It was all part of a celebration dedicated to St. Francis of
Assisi. Many Christians -- in New York, Los Angeles, San
Francisco and other cities across the United States -- paid
tribute to the 13th century saint by holding a special
service to bless animals.
"We honor today one of the most simple, plain, unassuming
saints," said the Very Rev. Harry Pritchett of St. John the
Divine. "St. Francis is noted for his amazing hospitality to
The Italian saint, who died in 1226, was well-known for his
preaching, poverty and gentleness. Tradition holds that
animals responded to his kindness by listening to his
Ever since, Christians have commemorated Francis on the first
Sunday in October by blessing animals. The services were
first conceived as a way to give thanks for the creatures who
served man by tilling in the fields or pulling artillery on
the battlefield -- or filling plates on the dinner table.
This religious reverence for animals is, of course, not
simply a Christian tradition.
"In most of the other religions of the world, there's a sense
that respecting animal life is part of the natural makeup of
human beings and, indeed, part of the moral sensitivity that
makes us human," said Dr. Ron Long of Hunter College.
And in recent years, the blessing services in honor of St.
Francis have taken on a new connotation.
"With our increasing attention to the environment and to
ecological issues and ecological justice, (it) has taken on a
whole new meaning and power," said Pritchett. "I think the
message really is that if we're all creatures of God, nothing
Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist contributed to this report.