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Norwich Bulletin - 5/11/2008

Protectors Of The Animals

"Not to hurt the creatures brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission - to be of service to them wherever they require it."
- Saint Francis


There is a story about Saint Francis that he gave his most famous sermons to a flock of birds. As he was traveling with some other friars, he looked up and saw the trees full of birds. Saint Francis ran toward the birds and humbly asked them to listen to the work of God.

It is said that the sermon was recorded by one of the friars and it shows the Saint's love for all creatures and it Creator.

"My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part."

It is written that the birds then stretched their necks and extended their wings as Saint Francis walked among them, touching and blessing them. From this moment on, he spoke to all animals, birds and reptiles and told them to love and praise their Creator.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the time in which Saint Francis lived in Italy, the world was a place of constant war, political scheming and cruelty. People treated each other horribly and without respect - the animals were treated with even more cruelty. Unnecessary infliction of pain and suffering on animals was a social norm right up until the last part of the nineteenth century, when the country became more civilized and began to pass anti-cruelty laws for animals and then children.

So 600 years before their were any animal rights activists or animal protection laws, there was Saint Francis. He understood the need to respect and love for animals. He lived with this respect and love for all creatures - animals and human - and was the inspiration and compassion for the laws that would eventually be passed and encompass our present lives.

Truly an inspiration to the love in our hearts for our companion animals and our concern for the wild animals that run through the forests and jungles, Saint Francis watches over them all and touches our lives with his goodness.

"The least we owe them is to live a life that is worthy of their devotionů."
- Saint Roch

Saint Roch is the Patron Saint of Dogs and those who love him. He was born around 1295 in Montpelier, France to a very privileged background. But he was always different than his peers in that he had great empathy for the poor and sick. And so he renounced his nobility and wealth and began a pilgrimage to Rome where he cared for plague victims.

As many of the caretakers did at that time, he himself contracted the plague. As he did not want to burden anyone with his suffering and need for care, he went alone to live in the forest. It is written that he was befriended by a dog who daily brought him food from the nearby manor house and licked Saint Roch's wounds until he recovered.

When he was fully recovered, he returned home to find that his family had all died and no-one recognized him or believed he was who he said he was. And so he was driven from his home and once more became a wanderer. But this time he dedicated his life to his canine friends, helping dogs whenever he could. The dogs knew that he was their patron and gave him the loyalty that we today receive from our canine companions.

Most Holy Saint Gertrude, I beseech thee to provide me with the strength and dedication to care for every stray cat that finds its way to my doorstep. I also ask that you protect my furniture from claw marks and my carpet from accidents. Amen.
- Prayer to Saint Gertrude

Of course I am going to mention the Patron Saint of Cats, Saint Gertrude of Nivelles. She was born in 626 and her entire family was known for their piety and goodness. She was appointed abbess of a monastery in Nivelles. She is usually depicted with mice around her and a cat with or near her.

After her death and up until the nineteenth century, offerings of gold and silver mice were left at her shrine in Cologne. Mice and rats were abundant and were responsible for the ruin of many crops and sickness among the people. She was one of the first people to advocate that the cat was a useful friend that helped prevent homes and estates from being overrun by rodents. She advocated for her feline friends and her devotion to cats accounts to her traditional patronage of cats.

And so the Saints are linked to the creatures of our world and they admonish us to take responsibility and care for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Be aware of the cruelty to animals that still exists today and follow the steps of Francis, Roch and Gertrude and be a voice to be heard.

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