For the past six months Eleanor Warring has relied on her best friend more than ever. Sammy, a 7-year-old terrier poodle mix was one of more than a dozen dogs present for the annual Blessing of the Animals on Oct. 3, 2020 at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch.
Warring lost her husband of 58 years in 2016 when Sammy was nearly 3 years old and the two have been nearly inseparable since. The companionship has been valued more since the pandemic began, which is why Warring wanted to be certain Sammy received a proper blessing with Holy Water from Deacon Jack Milholland.
Sammy remained still throughout the prayer service which consisted of readings from Scripture, prayers and intercessions followed by a general blessing and then individual blessings as Deacon Milholland worked his way through the crowd.
“I would bring him to Mass if I could,” Warring explained. “That is why this blessing is so special. I find great comfort with Sammy and find great comfort in the Church.”
The Blessing of the Animals traditionally occurs on Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of animals and the environment. St. Francis loved the birds near his hometown and even allowed himself to be displaced from a place of shelter in deference to a donkey. The Saint wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things, “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”
The celebration of the Blessing of the Animals celebrates the sacredness of all God’s creation. In the spirit of Saint Francis, the celebration honors animals that share our lives and touch our hearts. It also acknowledges and encourages respect for all of creation.
With requirements of social distancing, many of the blessings throughout the Diocese were on a smaller scale than in the past, but their importance seemed just as crucial. At St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, Father Lorenzo González held a drive-thru blessing, as did Father Casey Jones at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples. Meanwhile the blessing at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples by Father Gerard Critch was held in a courtyard.
In the wake of the pandemic, many became much closer to their pets. Whether the pets are furry, feathered, scaled or finned, they helped their owners cope with the isolation and loneliness brought on by the quarantine, or the need to remain home for work and/or school.