SUN CITY CENTER – Every year on Oct. 4 churches throughout the country observe St. Francis of Assisi Feast Day to bestow blessings upon people’s pets. This year, United Community Church joined in.
Amid the occasional antsy whine The Rev. Jean Simpson, United Community’s interim minister, prayed before an audience of 42 residents who had brought their animals or a photo of them to the Oct. 5 ceremony. Then she provided each dog or cat with a special blessing.
“I think she was praying with me,” Simpson said jokingly of the nearby dog that whined.
Simpson introduced the inaugural event to the congregation and hopes it will become an annual observance.
“I’m a new pastor here, and I’ve always done a Blessing of the Animals at my previous churches,” she said. “We do this to try and emulate the love St. Francis had for animals by reminding folks to properly care for them and the blessing God bestows upon us by their presence in our lives.”
To Catholics and many other Christians, St. Francis is considered the patron saint of all animals and the environment.
Simpson said some of those attending the blessing brought photos of pets they couldn’t bring for some reason – whether for sickness, age or death. She poignantly blessed each of the animals as if they were there.
“I think it was the sweetest blessing we’ve ever had in the community,” said Sun City Center resident Geri Booth, who brought her 6-year-old chocolate toy poodle, Kisses. “I look forward to it every year. I think my little dog needs to be blessed just like I do. She means everything to me.”
Pat Boyer of Bradenton agreed.
“I am blessed every week at church, so I think it’s important to have my dogs blessed, too.”
Simpson, who has two Cairn terriers she calls “the loves of her life” understands that kind of commitment.
“Animals give us unconditional love,” she said. “And since we are charged with their care by God, we need to return that love.”
Prince of Peace Catholic Church held its Blessing of the Animals ceremony on Oct. 4. Sixty residents and their pets attended.