Fr. James Zammit blesses some of the animals at The Blessing of the Creatures Oct. 7 at Toronto’s St. Francis of Assisi Church. Photo by Meggie Hoegler

Pets granted a little taste of Heaven

  • October 10, 2017
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Toronto was a zoo on the afternoon of Oct. 7.

Parishioners from across the city brought their dogs, cats, rabbits and geckos to be part of a Franciscan tradition known as The Blessing of Creatures. As Fr. Jimmy Zammit sprinkled the restless animals with holy water, owners struggled to maintain control of their dogs, which leapt for joy as the water sprinkled their noses.

Parishioner Susana Caldeira says The Blessing of Creatures has become an annual tradition for her family and their three dogs.

“We bring them every year,” said Caldeira. “But last year we only had two dogs. It’s hard to say no to just one more.”

The ceremony honours St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology. Pet blessings happen annually at parishes throughout the month of October in honour of his feast day (Oct. 4). According to Zammit, The Blessing of Creatures is reassuring for pet owners, who wonder where their furry friends go after they die.

“People often ask me, what happens to my little dog or my little cat?” said Zammit. “They are part of the family.”

While there has been no definitive ruling from the Church, Pope Francis, in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, states that “eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place.”

Zammit told the story of one family which brought their sick 14-year-old Yorkie, Amore, in for one last blessing a few weeks ago.

“The family asked for a prayer before they took her to the vet’s,” said Zammit. “She had the St. Francis medal around her neck when she died and the family is happy knowing that she was blessed here.”

Her owners returned for The Blessing of Creatures, only this time instead of Amore, they brought a little stone with her paw print and name engraved upon it, which Zammit also blessed.

“I knew Amore,” he said. “I would see her around the neighbourhood and I would always ask the family after Mass, ‘How is Amore doing this week?’ ”

Zammit is familiar with many of the other animals who came to the annual blessing, including two cats, a white rabbit named Chiqui and a gecko named Raptor.

The blessing begins with Zammit reciting the prayer of St. Francis and the Blessing of the Animals. He then anoints them with Holy Water and passes around small St. Francis medals, which owners can fasten to their pets’ collars.

“I call it The Blessing of Creatures so people can feel free to bring any animals they have — not just cats and dogs,” said Zammit. “We have had reptiles and hamsters, but no horses yet! They would be a little difficult to bring.”

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