MADRID – Countless pets that provide company and comfort to Catholics throughout the world on Thursday received a blessing to mark St. Anthony Abbot’s day, which celebrates the patron saint and protector of animals.
Every year on Jan. 17, an open-air stable is built in the Piazza Pio XII opposite St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican to accommodate the throngs of animals and their owners who bring their critters to get blessed by the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“The most strictly religious part of the morning includes, at 10:30, the liturgical function inside the Vatican Basilica, in St. Peter’s, officiated by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, vicar of His Holiness Pope Francis: an important moment of prayer, to remember also the founding values of the peasant family inspired by the daily and constant commitment to work, to the protection of Creation, the respect for Nature, of which breeders become spokesmen,” the Italian Association of Breeders explained on its website.
In Rome, civilian and military bodies on horseback – including the Italian Buttero cowboys – stole the show as they paraded through St. Peter’s Square.
In Spain, pet-owners flocked to churches around the country to get their zoological companions blessed, including bunny rabbits waiting in line for their turn and over-eager pooches lapping up holy water.
St. Anthony was a Christian monk from Egypt who lived between the 3rd and 4th centuries AD and later became patron saint of animals, basket weavers and gravediggers; he is also appealed to for protection against skin-related diseases.