Published Saturday, January 19, 2013
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
As worshippers gathered for the outdoor service, a bird flew into their midst and found a perch.
The bird “stayed until the blessing began,” said Debby Dye, who was among those gathered at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church. “He waited almost 10 minutes. We all felt that God sent the bird.”
The feathered visitor picked the right time to visit at St. Mary Magdalene, as the outdoor service was the annual Blessing of the Animals. Other animals – a lizard, a python, dogs, cats and a tiny dwarf hamster - were brought by their owners to the annual event.
Lauren Hagert brought her guinea pig, Buddy.
Ellie Thamert read a Bible passage as the service began. After the scripture reading, Father Dan Fleming gave a homily for the animal blessing.
Fleming talked about “how God loves all his creatures,” Dye said. “He spoke about St. Francis of Assisi, who loved animals.”
Animal owners extended their hands over or placed their hands on their pets while Fleming gave the blessing.
Fleming then used the aspergillum filled with holy water to bless each pet, calling the animal by name. Fleming also had everyone applaud for the most exotic animal. Sugar, a ball python owned by Joshua Farha, got lots of applause, but the winner was Chong, a bearded dragon lizard brought to the service by Josh Rodgers. Animal blessing services are often held in October when Christians from various traditions commemorate the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The blessing of animals is a reminder of the stewardship God gives humans for all creation.
For some faith traditions, St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment. Information distributed by First United Methodist Church indicated St. Francis “lived his life with a profound love and respect for all creatures, human and animal alike.”
Tradition says the saint once preached a sermon to a flock of wild birds and that he tamed a ferocious wolf.
In addition to the services at First Methodist and St. Mary Magdalene, there were animal blessing services at Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church in Roscoe and at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.