A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

World Animal Day and a Cathedral Cat

Carmina was a stray, struggling to care for her newborn kittens in a deserted parking lot in Washington, D.C. But on Sunday, October 3, 2010, she began her new life as the official Cathedral cat of the National Cathedral.

Carmina’s first official duty was to be welcomed at the annual Blessing of the Animals service.

“Carmina takes the place of Catherine of Tarragon, the much-beloved Cathedral cat who has retired in her old age to a home in North Carolina,” explained Cathedral Choral Society staffer Victoria Chamberlin.

Carmina was rescued by the Washington Humane Society, which also found homes for all of her kittens.

Also attending the service were other animals from the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League, many looking for good new homes. Hundreds of people bring their pets to the annual service each year to receive a blessing.

The Blessing of the Animals at the National Cathedral is just one of hundreds of the services around the country, and around the world, in celebration of St. Francis Day – now also known as World Animal Day.

About St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, was born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone in Assisi, Italy, in 1182. He came from a wealthy merchant family, but after a stint in the military, during which he was captured and held prisoner for a year, he had a vision that caused him to give up his secular life and become a nurse to lepers. When he was 27 years old, he founded an order of “lesser brothers” who, like himself, would choose never to be ordained as priests. Instead, they led lives of poverty, caring for the poor. Francis died in 1226, and was pronounced a saint two years later.

Francis is best known today for his relationship with animals. One of the stories often told about him is that one day he and some companions came upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees. Francis told his companions, “Wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters, the birds.” The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them, saying:

“My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.”

Another story has it that on his deathbed, Francis thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him through his life … and that the donkey wept.

World Animal Day

Incidentally, World Animal Day originated in 1931, when a group of ecologists attending a convention in Florence, Italy, conceived the notion of putting a new face on what the Catholic Church had celebrated for seven centuries as the Feast of St. Francis. They would embrace it as World Animal Day, as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered animals all over the world.

Last year, the day was observed in 73 countries, according to organizers at World Animal Day headquarters in the United Kingdom. Events ranged from church blessings to adoption days to sanctuary open houses. India, for example, held a Rabies Awareness Campaign; Singapore held a spay/neuter month; Lebanon welcomed an animal parade; and Nepal had a Walk for the Animals. Palo Alto, Calif., 35 organizations showcased humane living with the second Humane Planet Expo.