SALT LAKE CITY — The Rev. Tyler Doherty smiled and ran his hands through the soft, thick fur of a grey cat brought before him.
"May you and Marti enjoy life together and find joy with the God who created you." He carefully recited the prayer for the blessing of the animals as the cat meowed.
After the blessing, Marti Jones coaxed her cat, Xochityl, back into a carrier.
"It's kind of been a hard year for her," she said. "She’s had a hard time and I’m struggling with whether to get another cat to keep her company."
Another one of her cats died in December, Jones continued, and Xochityl was suffering from loneliness. That's why she brought her cat out to the Blessing of the Animals on Saturday at Saint Mark's Cathedral in Salt Lake City.
A dozen community members attended the event, bringing dogs, cats and even a gecko. Rev. Doherty said he's also seen people bring horses, snakes and guinea pigs to the blessing. Even an elephant was blessed once when the circus came into town, he recalled.
"I've had fairly run of the mill domestic stuff," he said. "It draws a diverse crowd of people, the animal lovers."
The blessing is a part of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, an annual event celebrating the life of the patron saint of animals. He is often shown with a bird in his hand, as he made a point to teach animals about God.
After blessing each pet individually, Rev. Doherty told one story of a time Francis saved a town from a wolf attacking local shepherds and livestock. According to the story, the revered saint worked out a compromise with the wolf and the townspeople.
"The broader significance of the blessing of the animals is that it reminds us of our role as Christians to be good stewards of all of creation," Rev. Doherty said.
Brandon Burningham and his 12-year-old daughter, Emma, brought a leopard gecko to the event. The gecko, Pip, was a Christmas present last year.
"We’ve been out before. It’s been a few years," Burningham said. "We brought our cat before."
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.
"St. Francis has always been the one saint I’ve had an affinity for," said Barbara Dopps, who brought her two shih tzu dogs. "(The blessing) means different things to different people, depending on what their faith background is and what they believe about blessings and about God and about St. Francis."