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St Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

 

Feast of St Francis of Assisi

Many churches in the United States celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi on October 4 each year. The feast commemorates the life of St Francis, who was born in the 12th century and is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment. It is a popular day for pets to be “blessed”.

 

What do people do?

Many children in the USA bring their pets to the church to be blessed on St Francis’ feast day because of his love for animals as expressed in his Canticle of Creatures. St Francis is the patron saint of animals so many churches offer animal blessing services, usually held on or around October 4. The services may include a verbal blessing and holy water and are usually held at a place where different animals can gather.

Blessings may occur indoors or outdoors. Pets may include dogs, cats, fish and birds. Some people choose to bring photos of their pets if it is difficult for their pets to attend the blessing. Pet blessings occur in states such as (but not exclusive to):

Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington.

Some churches ask people to bring animal food or blankets to be donated to a local animal shelter around this time of the year. This event is not exclusive to Catholic churches, as some Anglican churches also have animal blessing services on the Feast of St Francis of Assisi. The Feast of St Francis of Assisi gives many educators, caregivers and animal rights organizations an opportunity to teach children about endangered or abused animals and what can be done to help save these animals.

Public life

The feast of St Francis of Assisi is not a public holiday in many countries but it is a popular observance among many churches around the world, including countries in North America (eg. the United States and Canada) and Europe (eg. Italy). It is also observed in places such as the United Kingdom and Australia.

Background

St Francis, who founded the Catholic Church’s Franciscan order, lived in Italy during the late 12th and 13th centuries. He is remembered for his generosity to the poor and his willingness to minister to the lepers. He is remembered for his love for animals and nature.  St Francis died at Portiuncula, Italy on October 4, 1226.

Pope Gregory IX pronounced St Francis a saint in 1228. The pope also laid the foundation stone for the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, Italy. The church, also known as Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Symbols

Symbols associated with St Francis of Assisi are:

  • Birds and animals.

  • A bag of gold and rich raiment at St Francis’ (of Assisi) feet.

  • A winged crucifix with five rays.

  • Stigmata.

  • A crown of thorns.

  • A lighted lamp.

  • A fiery chariot.

  • Animals such as birds, deer, and a wolf.

  • Fire.

  • A skull.

Some of these symbols are seen around the time of the Feast of St Francis of Assisi.

 

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