Each year, in early autumn, you can see a small procession of animals being led to churches and chapels for a special ceremony known as the Blessing of the Animals.

This custom is held to remember St. Francis of Assisi, known for his love and affection for all creatures great and small. Over the years, it has become a tradition in the church to remember the feast of St. Francis with a ceremonial "Blessing of the Animals" to celebrate their role in fulfilling God's universal plan for mankind.

Members of the Fort Belvoir Catholic Community arrived at the Woodlawn Chapel with pets of all sizes on leashes or being lovingly carried in their owner's arms, Saturday. Before the ceremony, each pet was welcomed by Chaplain (Col.) Phillip Hill, Garrison Chaplain and Catholic Pastor
Traditionally, the animal blessing is held outdoors. This year, Hill invited all of the pets (and their owners) into the church so they would be out of the wind and rain.

The ceremony began with an introduction and opening prayer conducted by Chaplain Hill with some assistance from the four legged participants. After the opening prayer, Hill read a passage from Genesis (1:24-31) and provided some reflective thoughts on the importance of the passage and the role pets play in our daily lives.

The ceremony concluded with each owner and their pet meeting Hill at the altar to receive a personal blessing. At the end of each blessing, the owner was presented a medal with the image of St. Francis to be attached to their pet's collar.

While the Feast of St. Francis comes only once a year, his feast day has come to symbolize both the importance and the value that pets play in our daily lives. For example, the medical community recognizes the powerful, healing effect pets have with people, of all ages, and on a case-by-case basis, integrates pets into the overall healing and recuperation process. In addition, it is not uncommon to see pets that serve as the eyes, ears, and hands for those who may require some additional assistance in accomplishing daily tasks.

The bond between a person and their pet is unlike any other relationship -- whether it is a wagging tail, bark of joy, lick on the face, or a purring ball of fur in your lap, we all appreciate the contributions that our pets make to "enrich our lives" and continuously show unconditional love regardless of the circumstances.

In the end, we thank our Creator for the many gifts that our pets bring into our lives and the lives they touch on a daily basis. This truly is a wonderful world.