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October 04, 2011

The Work of St. Francis

Today is St. Francis Day, and this past Sunday churches across the country celebrated the saint by welcoming pets inside sanctuaries, courtyards, and gardens to receive blessings. The HSUS has participated in the blessing service at The Washington National Cathedral for the past four years. Each year, in addition to the many animals brought by their loving companions, there were dogs from the Washington Animal Rescue League and the Washington Humane Society also present. Reverend Mary Selerud, who presided over the service, blessed many of these dogs and recognized them as needing a home.

Pet blessing service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Donovan Marks

First Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago also held a blessing service and invited the city’s Anti-Cruelty Society to bring adoptable dogs. Pastor Tom Johnson welcomed the homeless animals and encouraged members to consider adopting them.

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) is the patron saint of animals. More than 3 million people visit his tomb each year, making him one of the most beloved saints of all time. He called animals his brothers and sisters and expressed a deep gratitude for their being.

Francis’ legacy lives on in many faith leaders and their communities today. The HSUS recently met with Dr. Charles Arand, a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., who served for a number of years on the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The LCMS is a conservative Protestant denomination in the United States with 2.3 million members. Arand worked on the Commission's report, Together With All Creatures, which develops the thesis, "God calls us to care for His earth as creatures among fellow creatures." In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Arand travels the country and speaks at universities and congregations about the implications of Martin Luther's statement that "God made us together with all creatures."

Arand is among many faith leaders who are carrying on the work of St. Francis in the 21st century, playing a crucial role in spreading the message of compassion for animals as well as people.

I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference for pastors in Portland, Ore., this past April. The annual Q conference addresses many of the most critical issues facing society, among them poverty, human trafficking, hunger, education, and the church’s role in the future. I was very pleased to be invited to speak and to shine a light on the urgent needs for animal advocacy today. You can watch part of my presentation here, or the full video here.

St. Francis is perhaps the best known exemplar of the animal care ethic within the numerous faith traditions worldwide, but it is also nice to know that every one of these traditions expresses a deep concern for animals.

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