Horses, cows, chickens and dogs were just some of the creatures that took center stage at the Vatican today for the customary blessing of animals.
“We have around 30 horses and we chose one to bring here for the blessing of St. Anthony because it’s important, he helps them along in their lives,” said Elio Daffalu from Messina, Italy, while standing next to his blessed horse named Doria.
“He is the protector of animals and because we have a passion for horses, we always hope that St. Anthony will help them,” Daffalu told CNA.
The ceremony takes place every year on the Feast of St. Anthony the Abbot and was led this year by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“The tradition of blessing animals is linked to the fact that St. Anthony the Abbot was a saint that had a special relationship with nature, with creation and therefore also with animals,” said Cardinal Comastri at the Jan. 17 ceremony.
He explained that the tradition came about “spontaneously in the agricultural world,” although it is impossible to say when.
“It was born within the context of the Christian faith that always called the world not ‘nature’ but ‘creation,’ because it is the work of God, it is a gift from God. Creation is made by God, so we must respect it.”
Today’s event began with farmers going to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by the blessing of their animals in a makeshift livestock showgrounds, just outside of St. Peter’s Square. Cows, horses, sheep, goats, geese and hens were all present, as well as more domesticated beasts, such as cats and dogs, brought along by their Roman pet owners.
The crowd was also entertained by a parade of horses that included a mounted police band.
Cardinal Comastri concluded the event by saying a few words to the crowd, before blessing all present with holy water – animals and humans alike.
“We are a generation that respects creation very little, and for that reason we pollute many areas in many ways,” he said.
“This feast day is a call also to respect creation in a way that the environment might be a place to live, to live with the dignity that God gave to all.”
St. Anthony the Abbot was a 3-4th century monk who lived an austere and holy life in the Egyptian desert. He is considered one of the founders of Christian monasticism.