Pet owners of Juneau gathered downtown Friday to have their cherished critters blessed. In a small park that sits between St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Father Ed Penisten led the ceremony to commemorate the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi.
“May God who created the animals of this earth, as a help to us, continue to protect and sustain us with the grace his blessing brings, now and forever. Amen,” Penisten read aloud.
After the invocation, Penisten sprinkled the small crowd of people and their animals with holy water, including a chubby rabbit named Jumbo Joe.
Tara Kelly, mother of the children who call Jumbo Joe their pet, said the ceremony has special meaning for the family.
“We had two bunnies, they were brothers, and last weekend one of them was killed by a wolf,” Kelly said. “The boys were really distraught and part of what was so distressing was how we were going to keep this guy safe.”
Kelly said they were able to chase the wolf away from the outside pen before it killed Jumbo Joe. While at a church meeting, the boys were told the story of St. Francis and the wolf.
“When they heard that story, they just stood there and went,” Kelly gasped to imitate her sons’ reactions.
The legend of St. Francis and the wolf takes place in Gubbio, Italy, where a wolf had been terrorizing the town, eating men and animals. St. Francis went into the nearby hills to find the wolf. When he found the wolf, St. Francis traced the shape of the cross with two fingers and commanded the wolf to follow him and to do no harm. The legend says St. Francis then made a peace pact between the wolf and the townspeople. The people agreed to feed the wolf so that he could do no more evil because of his hunger. St. Francis then blessed the wolf.
Father Penisten said the stories of St. Francis are why many people, even those who aren’t part of the Catholic Church, attend the annual pet blessing ceremonies.
“We have blessings for just about everything,” Father Penisten said. “St. Francis is very beloved by many people around the world.”