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'Blessing of the Animals' services celebrate the furriest faithful
Sunday marked the annual "Blessing of the Animals" service at most Catholic and Episcopal parishes. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
In churches across the country last weekend, religious leaders blessed furry friends alongside people of faith.

Sunday, Oct. 4, marked the commemoration of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, who is remembered for his love of animals. The saint, whom Pope Francis chose as his namesake, famously wrote, "We praise you, Lord, for all your creatures," in his Canticle of the Creatures prayer.

The "Blessing of the Animals" is celebrated annually in most Catholic and Episcopal parishes, as well as in other faith communities whose members have a special place in their hearts for pets.

"It's part of recognizing them as God's creation," said Peter Wong, priest at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, to the Dothan (Alabama) Eagle. "It's honoring the gift of their companionship and the joy they bring us."

As a slideshow from Crux illustrates, the event brings together creatures large and small. Although dogs and cats are the most common attendees, people also bring horses, rats, snakes and other nonhuman companions to receive a prayer or to be sprinkled with sacred water.

Some churches collect donations during the service to benefit local animal organizations. For example, Wong's congregants brought "pet food and more than $350 in cash to give to the Wiregrass Humane Society," the Dothan Eagle reported.

The place of animals in church life varies greatly from denomination to denomination, as recent news events have illustrated. As Catholics and Episcopalians affirm the importance of pets in their lives, members of America's evangelical community are wrestling with their stance on animal rights, wrote Mark Rodgers, an animal rights advocate, for On Faith this week.

"When I mention that my firm, The Clapham Group, works on faith and animal welfare, I often get a quizzical look, followed by a line of questioning. Why does a conservative evangelical care about animals? Why should any of us worry about animals?," he said.

Although he didn't highlight the value of blessing animals, Rodgers wrote to encourage fellow church members to think about the place of animal welfare in Christian activism, noting that caring for creatures is an important aspect of a moral life. He is part of the "Every Living Thing" movement, which seeks to get more evangelical Christians involved in animal rights events.
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