Today white smoke appeared above Vatican City. A new pope had been chosen to lead the Roman Catholic church.
I immediately began receiving texts and seeing tweets from friends reacting to the news and speculating who it might be. When it was announced that a Jesuit from Argentina, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, had been elected there was even more discussion and excitement.
I was excited when I heard the name he had chosen — Pope Francis. CNN soon clarified that he was honoring Saint Francis of Assisi, not the Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier. Saint Francis of Assisi is known not only for founding the Franciscan brothers and showing great compassion to the poor, but also loving nature and animals. I remember a teacher telling us in grade school that Francis believed that the bird and wolf were as much our siblings and as deserving of love as our human neighbors. Saint Francis of Assisi is known as the patron saint of animals. AmericanCatholic.org explains patron saints, saying “Certain Catholic saints are associated with certain life situations.”
For the past couple of years at least, many of the area churches of various denominations have held special blessings for pets on the feast day of Saint Francis in October. One of my favorites was when I was working as an adoption outreach coordinator for my local shelter and was asked to proclaim the psalm at the National Cathedral’s Blessing of the Animals. With the help of several volunteers, we had brought a handful of adoptable dogs out to the Cathedral where we met with a representative from another local shelter, as well as the Humane Society of the United States. It was a fun event, but also quite moving to see people bringing their pets up, including several cats in carriers and one on a leash, and the pastor solemnly blessing them with an olive branch dipped in holy water.
I hope that more churches are reminded by the name of the new pope to care for the animals in their midst. If even a few are inspired to better love their pets, find homes for those who are homeless and be responsible about future generations of pets — I’ll be happy.