What in the world is the blessing of the animals?
The blessing of the animals is a novel (but not new) way of helping people to connect with Christ. It has been around for over 800 years, originating with St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro in Assisi, Italy. He lived from 1181-1226. His early life was one of luxury as his father was a rich merchant. When war broke out between Assisi and Perugia in 1202, young Giovanni joined the cavalry. He was wounded and captured by the enemy. He was held in prison for over a year until his father paid a heavy ransom for his release. Giovanni returned home a changed man. Forsaking his former opulent lifestyle, he began focusing on God. He spent a great deal of time praying and seeking for answers to life’s profound questions. He sensed a call to ministry on his life. Taking the name “Francis”, he assembled a group of 12 local followers to join him in preaching the Gospel. His charismatic personality and preaching drew people to hear the good news about Jesus. Sometime between 1210-1215, Francis did his first blessing of the animals. According to the story, Francis was plagued with self-doubt. Wandering around one day, he saw a flock of birds, and began to ponder the glory of God in creation, and how God had blessed both people and animals alike. In celebration, he offered a blessing for the animals. A few years later, in 1223, Francis originated the first outdoor live Nativity. He borrowed a donkey, a wax statue of the baby Jesus, a trough of straw, and got volunteers to portray Mary and Joseph. In a cave, he brought about the first live nativity, so that all the local people – who were illiterate – would be able to understand the Christmas story, even though they couldn’t read. Just like the live nativity, the Blessing of the Animals gives us a chance to help people connect with Christ. People love their pets! We know from Scripture that God loves animals, too.