Dogs, cats, other creatures have their day at church

NORTH DELTA – What do you call a guy who willingly tosses aside a life of leisure for a life of poverty, goes around speaking of love and peace, communes with the poor and the sick and prioritizes animals and nature? A hippie? A saint? In the case of Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, who’d have just hit his 833rd birthday, probably the former and definitely the latter. Bernardone also spent much of his time as a friar and preacher, spreading the word of God to anyone who’d listen. Ultimately, he so impressed the Catholic church that he was officially appointed a saint just two years after his death in 1228.

Today, Bernardone is far better known as St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment. Indeed, he’s such a big deal in Catholic circles that he has his own day, Oct. 4, a time when some feast, others celebrate and still others spend time recognizing the animals in their own lives.

And so it was a day later, on Oct. 5, at Crossroads United Church, located on the Delta-Surrey border. Granted, there wasn’t

much feasting, but there most certainly was a celebratory atmosphere as Rev. Cari Copeman-Haynes presided over the facility’s second-ever Blessing the Animals event.

The mood was upbeat and the weather unusually warm as music duo Bruce and Cheryl Harding launched into their first of several songs at the church’s outdoor patio. They sang of all creatures great and small – words reflected soon thereafter in Copeman-Haynes’ abridged sermon.

The message was clearly global: that every animal, be it elephant or stick insect, deserves our respect and love. Fair enough. But here at the church, there wasn’t an elephant or stick insect to be found. There were, however, plenty of pets.

Bryan Hodgins of North Delta brought along his black and white Australian shepherd, named Murray. Hodgins, a member of the congregation “even before Crossroads became Crossroads,” knew of the upcoming service weeks in advance, telling his grandkids Kiera and Madelyn all about it. “The kids thought it would be great,” he joked later, adding, “They talked me into it.”

Fact is, Hodgins likely would have come anyway. “It’s part of the overall community. You see people sitting in the pews and you

hear about their pets, but you don’t see them. This was another connection to the community.”

Not far from Hodgins and his granddaughters sat Cathy Robinson-Kingscott. In a container by her feet sat a large, 25-year-old turtle named Michelangelo. “Like The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” laughed Robinson-Kingscott. And on her lap a second pet – a tabby named Charlie, a hefty cat who looked capable of holding his own against any dog on the block.

Later, as Copeman-Haynes made her way from chair to chair and pet to pet to deliver her personal blessings, Charlie the tabby and Murray the Australian Shepherd somehow came together. Earlier, both had strained on their leashes, sizing up the competition and/or looking for the closest exit. And now, suddenly, mere moments after their blessings, Murray and Charlie were literally face to face.

Yet the potential brouhaha never developed. Instead, they touched noses, calmly checked each other out, and ultimately seemed pleased they’d found one another.

Naturally, most everyone pondered the same question: What could have spurred such a surprising kinship? Could it be the blessings? A wee bit of divine intervention? Nah. Couldn’t be, could it? Turns out Charlie wasn’t an intense doghater after all. And Murray was feeling a little down after the recent loss of the Hodgins’ family cat and likely found solace in Charlie. So their friendly interaction wasn’t nearly as unexpected as it seemed.

As the event wrapped up, Copeman-Haynes explained that magical bonds between dogs and cats aren’t what it’s all about.

“Today we just said thank you for our animals and we shared the blessings of God. ‘Blessing,’ essentially, means ‘happiness.’ Now, these animals today didn’t really need a blessing. They’re joyous all on their own. But there’s something about transmitting the blessing that blesses us, too.”

There weren’t any miracles this sunny Sunday, but as pets, pet owners, musicians and others scattered into the afternoon sunshine, there was a sense that we’re all linked together. St. Francis wouldn’t want it any other way.

Goble@shaw.ca