SALT LAKE CITY — The furry, feathered, scaled and spiny were brought to receive blessings Saturday, in recognition of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
"I've been doing this for 20 years and I've never been bitten," said the Very Rev. Ray Waldron, dean of the local Cathedral Church of St. Mark. "The snakes are the ones that give me the most trouble."
As tradition dictates, Waldron blessed each pet at Liberty Park with good health and companionship, a wish he also bestowed upon their accompanying owners.
"They need to be blessed because they bless us," said Carole Sharp, a volunteer with the Utah Humane Society who brought a dog to be blessed. She said she hopes Rudy, the 5-year-old black Labrador retriever, will be adopted after having been transferred between multiple shelters.
Waldron asked God to give Rudy "a family that will love you forever."
"It is an opportunity to remind us of the special place that pets have in our hearts and our duty to take care of God's creations," the reverend said.
The blessing of the pets is a tradition dating back more than 200 years in the Catholic and Anglican churches, but pets were blessed without regard for religion at Liberty Park on Saturday. The custom is carried out in honor of St. Francis of Assisi's love for all of God's creatures and the environment.
As a revered religious figure, Francis, who died in 1226 and is named for a town in Italy, devoted himself to a life of poverty and simplicity. It is believed that Francis preached that the love a person gives to and receives from an animal could teach them about the circle of life and give them a greater love for God out of respect for his creations.
The saint is often depicted with a bird in his hand, as he made it a point to also teach animals about their creator.
"Our pets are part of our life," said Becky Ball, who works at the cathedral. She brought "Bob Barker," the chihuahua, another dog, "Hailey," and "Sammie," a bird, to be blessed.
"They are as special as we are and a blessing certainly won't hurt them," Ball said.
The current Catholic pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, chose his papal name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, becoming Pope Francis in March. Pope Francis visited the town of Assisi Friday, in celebration of the Feast Day of St. Francis.
Waldron, who has blessed everything from cats and dogs, to mice and snakes, and even a bull and a horse, invited patrons of his congregation to bring their stuffed animals to church on Sunday, located at 231 E. 100 South, where the blessing of the animals will continue through the weekend.
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