Those of many different faiths, and species, attended Sunday’s annual blessing of the animals at Holy Family Church in Middletown.
By unofficial count, the procession from Clark Street to the area in front of the church where the deacon, the Rev. John Lyons, blessed animals and their owners were 15 dogs, three cats, two horses and two gerbils.
“It’s a great thing to do,” said Angie Johnson, a former Middletown resident who now lives in Florence, Ky. She attended with her cat, Sicily. Her brother, Ben Johnson, and his son, Jake Johnson, both of Middletown, also were there, with the father holding a cat named Lucy, and Jake awaiting the blessing with gerbils Sirius and Dobby.
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“Animals need God’s protection just as much as we do,” Angie Johnson said, as her cat sat in her lap, remarkably calm with all the nearby dogs.
Ben Johnson quipped that Sirius and Dobby attended because they hoped the blessing will “make them better gerbils.”
God “gave us these animals, and this is kind of our way of thanking him,” Lyons said. The animals are pets, “and we’re really stewards of God’s creation. That’s what the prayers (said during the brief ceremony) say.”
His sprinkling of the pets and their owners with holy water is a reminder of Baptism, he said.
Susan Henson, who originated the ceremony in 2006, still organizes the event, in which owners and Lyons pray through the intersession of St. Francis of Assisi, a beloved friend to animals.
“I love it,” said Henson, who was thankful for a beautiful, sunny autumn afternoon. “This was my dream. I had a dream we would have a Catholic blessing with a procession, because Catholics always have processions,” she said with a laugh.
Henson had been on a Family Life committee, and given that animals are such an important part of many families, wondered about the possibility of a blessing. “I’m an animal lover, so I love to see the cats and dogs. Even a cat on a leash. That’s awesome.”
The first year, 55 dogs were blessed, Henson said.
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All the animals got along. At one point, a small dog barked immediately after Lyons finished a prayer. The crowd, feeling that the dog’s woof was appropriate, laughed, before the humans added an “amen” of their own.
Churches of several faiths bless the animals on Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis, or Sundays close to that date.
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