Last Sunday I attended the 29th annual Feast of Saint Francis the Assisi (also known as the Blessing of the Animals) at the esteemed Saint John the Devine Church in New York City. The Mass was like none other that I've attended previously, interspersed with modern music and dance performances, experienced by hundreds of people with their pets. And dogs weren't the only non-humans in the audience. There were cats, parrots, lizards, and even a hermit crab. See more photos here.
In the sermon, Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski talked about blessing animals as one of the things that showed the possibility of harmony on the planet. I've been to a lot of different Blessing of the Animas and have seen these events bring together people of different religions and even those who do not consider themselves religious at all. Saint John the Devine has obviously been doing this for a long time and provided detailed programs with the words to each song and ritual. I think it certainly made people feel welcome.
Paul Winter, a Grammy winning musician, composed and performed songs centered around recordings of humpback whales, harp seals, wolves, birds, and elephants. Modern dancers added movement to the music with colorful costumes and flags that made me feel like I was at a Broadway play.
After the Communion came the part everyone was waiting for, the procession of the animals. The menagerie included the exotic--a camel, llama, tortoise, and fennic fox, among many others; and the more familiar—a service dog named Janus and a therapy pup named Tony.
Josephine Cascio has been attending St. Francis’ Blessing of the Animals for the last five years. This year she was excited to participate in the procession with Tony, who she adopted eight years ago. Josephine and Tony volunteer at Park Place Nursing Home in Monmouth Junction, N.J. and at Princeton University during finals time. Tony shamelessly solicited a pat on the head from a member of the congregation as he paraded down the aisle.
During the program, when a dog barked in response to the animal noises in one of Paul Winter's songs, Rev. Kowalski remarked that the dog’s enthusiasm was contagious. Indeed it was. And it made me think that out pets should be allowed at Mass every week!