MUMBAI, India – Among the things that can bring people of different faiths together is a love of animals.
In India, the traditional blessing of the animals, associated with the feast of St. Francis, brings more than Christian families to one Catholic parish.
“People from all faiths are welcome. Many people of other religions bring their animals for the blessing,” Father Joe D’ Souza, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church told Crux. “There were 8 non-Christian families present, belonging to the Parsi and Hindu faiths,” adding the animals break all religious barriers.
“Non-Christians like the special ceremony,” he said. “They tell me that this blessing represents a bit the beauty of the Catholic Church, which not only allows animals into a sacred place, but also blesses them. This love for other creatures is a way of saying that they too are created by God.”
The feast of St. Francis is celebrated on October 4, and over time Franciscan churches began blessing animals on the day.
Now, parishes all over the world bless animals around the feast, even if they have no relationship to the Franciscan order.
D’Souza held the ceremony this year on October 8, allowing more people to attend since it was a Saturday.
The priest blessed nearly 80 pets, which included dozens of dogs; a turtle; an eagle; two barn owls; two cockatoos; and a Persian cat.
He also blessed several neighborhood street dogs, which are routinely fed and cared for by the locals.
“Father, thank you for the beauty of your creation,” D’Souza prayed. “Only those who have pets know their value and how you treasure them and how they return your love.”
This year, D’Souza added a special prayer for sick animals, including a dog with a kidney problem and another with a lung infection.
“The request for this special moment was made by the owners of the pets,” he said. His own Pomeranian, named Wolfie, died of heart disease and old age a few years ago.
D’Souza has been blessing pets at every parish he has been assigned in the Archdiocese of Bombay over the past 20 years.