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Blessings of animals are planned

It's that time of year again.

Time to ask God's blessing for his two-legged, four-legged, hopping, flying, swimming and slithering creatures.

Oct. 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, and people throughout the world will honor the patron saint of animals with a creature blessing on the nearest Sunday to that date.

Some clergy honor the animals with a service inside the church; others prefer to do it outdoors.

At the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, about 5,000 people come to witness the annual procession of animals, including the expected cats, dogs, fish and birds, as well as elephants, camels and monkeys, as they are guided up the church steps and down the aisle to the altar to be blessed.

The daylong event includes concerts, theater performances, puppeteers, children's games, vegetable concessions and a petting zoo. The event is a joyous display of God's love for all his creatures.

At Duke University in Durham, N.C., people bring their birds, dogs, cats and other pets to the university chapel.

During the ceremony, clergy members lay a hand on the head of each animal and say a prayer on its behalf.

Since 1930, the blessing of the animals has taken place in Los Angeles on Olvera Street. For some reason, this ceremony is always conducted in March.

St. Francis was well known for his preaching, his life of poverty, his character and his gentleness. Stories abound of his love and understanding of wild creatures.

The Rev. Richard H. Cobbs IV, interim pastor at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Spring Hill, looks forward to following the age-old Anglican tradition when he hosts the animal and pet blessing Oct. 3 on church grounds.

All area residents are invited to bring their animals for a blessing and remain for a picnic lunch while getting to know the friendly St. Andrew's clergy and congregation.

"Gather up your cats, dogs, birds, fish, iguanas, gerbils, hamsters and maybe even a horse or two and bring them to be blessed while enjoying the fellowship of the animals," Cobb said.

The Rev. Raymond O'Neill, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Spring Hill, said the celebration is to remind folks of St. Francis' love and protection of animals and to follow in his footsteps.

O'Neill recalled conducting an animal blessing at a church in Gulfport. He was happy to see 40 pet owners show up.

"People come out of the woodwork for something like that," he said. "It would have spiritual meaning for them."

This year's ceremony will be conducted by the Rev. Conrad Sundholm.

Monsignor John Cippel, pastor of St. Frances of Cabrini Catholic Church, said the church has blessings for all activities and objects that are used in man's labor, but first and foremost there are blessings for people and all other living creatures.

"When God created everything and said it was very good _ our animal blessing events are nothing more than echoing that blessing of God on everything he created," Cippel said.