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Praying for our pets: Chennai church marks the Feast of St Francis with special mass for pets

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Posted on October 5, 2015: Christian saints, time and again, have displayed kindness towards animals. St Antony preached to creatures with fins, whereas St Francis of Assisi preached to the feathered species. St Brigit considered the cow an animal to be protected. St Columba instructed monks in his order to tend to a crane. Sea monsters assisted St Brendan on his voyage.

St Francis of Assisi, is regarded as the patron saint of animals. He considered animals as his siblings. “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission -- to be of service to them wherever they require it.” He prayed to God that he’d be able to heal animals and consequently went on to miraculously restore them to health.

World Animal Day is celebrated each year on October 4, on the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, since 1939. A convention of ecologists in Florence ushered in this practice. At St Thomas Basilica church in Chennai, this special feast was marked with a special mass where church goers brought their pets along for a blessing.

Alfredo Franco Cea a teacher from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, who has a mixed breed dog called Bigo-Chan recollects that Pope Francis, while consoling a child who had lost his pet said, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God's creatures.”

Whereas Alfredo approves of these masses for pets, he feels that it would be better if pets attended church more often. He explains, “Bigo-Chan, is a true member of our family. He tags along with us in pretty much every outing we do. I would love for Bigo-Chan to come along with us when we go to church to celebrate or commemorate some of the most important Catholic holidays. Though he would not understand the words being spoken, his soul would most definitely be attuned with the occasion.”

Saintly love for animals

Most Catholic animal lovers and pet parents cheered this initiative on. Stefano Mino, from Turin in Italy, a self-confessed cat lover, said, “Thomas Aquinas, Catholic priest and friar said that animals have souls. Indeed this turned Christians towards loving pets.”

Mercy Francis D’Silva, a homemaker from Vasai in Maharashtra, who has been feeding stray cats for years delves into the Bible, while answering how this fest is in sync with Christian theology, “Noah, constructed an arc, not just for humans but for every species of animal. I feel that a mass like this wherein pets are blessed, will make people realize that we need to provide animals food, shelter and a loving home.”

Ay’sha Uddin, a Catholic hairdresser from Mumbai, who had a Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd and Mongrel as a child feels, “I think blessing animals in church, will make man realize that he is as important as you and me. The loving manner in which the father blesses the animals with holy water is meant for us, it will make all of us realize that life has no class.”

Helen Christian Xavier, a Japanese interpreter and translator from Chennai, felt that blessing pets is a nice plan. However taking her seven cats to the mass was not something that crossed her mind. She said, “Whereas the blessing is surely a good idea, I feel that the timing isn’t suitable, as the sun will be directly overhead, which will make it very uncomfortable for the pets. Some of the animals may get annoyed on seeing the crowd curiously peering at them, as many people may gather to watch just the pets. Also, it may be easy to take dogs to the mass but not that convenient to take cats, birds and fishes there. I cannot take my cats there as they are very shy.”

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