By Miriam Raftery
July 19, 2010 (San Diego) – A procession of around 100 visitors accompanied by their pets lined up yesterday morning outside the San Diego Mission de Alcala. The faithful and the curious turned out for the Blessing of Animals, a tradition started by St. Francis of Assisi in the 1200s.
The custom was practiced in San Diego by Father Junipero Serra, founder of the Mission, and has continued ever since--accompanied by barks, mariachi music, and an occasional "oink."
A pot-bellied pig, a hamster, and dozens of dogs were among those receiving a blessing by a priest, who sprinkled each animal with holy water in the mission’s courtyard while a mariachi band provided lively music for the occasion. Each pet owner was also presented with a St. Francis medal suitable for clipping onto a blessed pet’s collar.
The Blessing of the Animals, performed outdoors, welcomes people of all faiths. (Services inside the historic Mission chapel are reserved for Catholics.) The chapel was open, however, and some participants paused inside to pray afterwards with their pets alongside them.
St. Francis of Assisi wrote a Canticle of the Creatures intended as an ode to all living things created, he believed, by God. There are several prayers used today in Blessing of the Animal ceremonies. A favorite Franciscan passage reads as follows:
Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”
The ceremony was performed as part of the weekend-long Festival of the Bells, an annual event that also includes the ringing of all five campanario bells on Saturday as well as live music, dancing, food and special events.