BLESSING OF ANIMALS
It's an invitation of a different kind. Dogs, cats, donkeys, goats and other pets and their owners are invited to a blessing of animals at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, in the park at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Elgin.
Father Hank Albrecht of La Grande will be on hand to bless the animals in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals for whom San Francisco was named.
Hamburgers and other refreshments will be provided after the observance, said Vicki Correll, director of religious education at St. Mary's.
Correll of Summerville expects to have her two border collies, Breeze, 5, and Buzz, 3, at the blessing. She said a donkey from the Summerville area might also be on hand.
At first it may appear that the zoo has come to church, but the blessing of animals held around the world on the first weekend of October in celebration of St. Francis Feast Day carries on a centuries-old Christian tradition giving thanks for the creatures that serve mankind.
St. Francis, 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 sermons.
That might be a stretch, but interfaith singer-songwriter Michele Paris believes that most pets are "like angels who accompany us on part of our journey.
"They can uplift us from some of the deepest downs and remind us of what really matters. They are teachers of unconditional love and other values of the heart and spirit.
"Animals demonstrate how compassion and understanding do not need words," Paris said. "It doesn't matter what language you speak, or what color your skin is. To them, beauty is expressed in things like kindness of touch or sincerity of eye contact."
Friar Jack Wintz said St. Francis was happy to be a brother to the animals and a member of the family of creatures.
"He seemed proud to be integrally and closely linked with other creatures."
Wintz, who is of the Franciscan Order, said Francis was inspired to compose a hymn of praise to all the creatures:
"All praise be yours, O Lord. Be praised, my Lord, through all that you have made. All praise, first of all, for Brother Sun, through whom you bring light and who is a symbol of you. All praise be yours through Sister Moon and Stars, ... through Brother Wind and Air, ... through Sister Water and Brother Fire, ... and through Sister Earth, our mother, who feeds us and produces various fruits and colored flowers and herbs."
St. Francis, Wintz said, gave animals a lot of attention. He often laid his hands on them and blessed them and talked lovingly to them about God.
Wintz said it was second-nature for St. Francis to include the whole family of creation in his prayers of praise to God.
"He did not see himself as journeying through life inside a plastic bubble, as if to keep himself uncontaminated from other creatures," Wintz said. "He did not see himself as journeying toward God apart from the rest of the family of creation.
"He was a brother to the sun and moon, the streams and lakes, the birds and animals and flowers, and it seemed right for him to praise the Creator in conjunction with them," Wintz said.
"He embraced his ties with the minerals and plants and animals. All were made by a holy Creator and deserve our highest respect."
As Paris said, people recognize the animals in their lives as "precious members of the family."
"It is important that we honor our feelings for them and connection to them," the singer said.
Correll said children and adults are invited to bring their pets to the gathering at St. Mary's park, 12th and Division streets.
Those needing more information about the blessing of animals can call Correll at 534-5235.