Our Lady of Fatima Church in North Bergen held its yearly Blessing of the Animals on Thursday, Oct. 4. The event was in honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of all animals.
Nearby residents brought their cats, birds, and dogs to be blessed. Rev. Peter Wehrle said that in the past, people brought turtles and snakes.
St. Francis is often associated with birds, fish, and rabbits. The most well known story is of the wolf who terrorized the town of Gubbio, Italy. St. Francis made a pact with the animal that if he would stop his evil deeds, he would not be harmed and would be taken care of by the townspeople. St. Francis preached to the animals that they should be grateful to their creator.
According to Rev. Peter Wehrle, spiritual leader of Our Lady of Fatima, St. Francis was a friend to all animals and wrote a hymn called “All Creatures of our God and King.”
“St. Francis was known to praise God in all of creation,” said Reverend Wehrle.
Each animal received a special prayer from Rev. Wehrle.
“God our heavenly father, we ask your blessing for [animal’s name],” he said. “May he always know your love and may he also realize that through the intercession of St. Francis that he is among God’s creatures. This blessing we ask in the name of the father, the son and holy spirit. Amen.”
Yet another variation of a blessing for the animals is: “Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. On the fifth and sixth days of creation, you called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters....”
“It’s not just about us [humans], it’s about all creatures.” – Reverend Peter Wehrle
The reverend, much like St. Francis of Assisi, is an animal lover. He remembered growing up with his Boxer Fritz, but unfortunately his allergies have not allowed him to have another pet.
Pets from throughout the area were welcomed at the Blessing of the Animals, although the Noah’s Ark-like rainy weather kept some away.
At the event, the owners were asked to “celebrate the animals that make our lives special.” Each pet owner was given a card from the ASPCA, a St. Francis medal for their pet’s leash, and a biscuit for their pet.
“I love that it’s something special for the whole family,” said Rev. Wehrle.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org