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'St. Francis loved his animals, and so do we': Annual religious rite draws dozens of people, pets in Yarmouth

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'St. Francis loved his animals, and so do we': Annual religious rite draws dozens of people, pets in Yarmouth

YARMOUTH — Pet lovers brought dozens of dogs, a litter of kitties, a hamster, a horse and more to Sacred Heart Church on Saturday morning for a blessing in celebration of St. Francis of Assisi's Feast Day.

More than 75 people and nearly 50 animals mingled in the church parking lot, where the Rev. Peter Kaseta blessed the pets and sprinkled them with holy water.

"One of the successes of celebrating our animal friends and St. Francis in this fashion is that all age groups and religious denominations are comfortable attending annually," organizer Gabrielle Tilton said. "Young families, single adults, widowed and retired are drawn and seem to appreciate this occasion to gather with others who are as attached to their best-friend creatures or even their farm animals."

It was the biggest crowd ever for the blessing, now in its 11th year, Tilton said.

"We have a lot of faith," said Anna Dubois of Scarborough, who attended the blessing for a third straight year with her daughter Jackie and their dogs Coco and Elle. "St. Francis loved his animals, and so do we."

St. Francis, whose feast day is Oct. 4, was an Italian friar born in the late 12th century. He is one of the most celebrated figures in the Catholic Church and the patron saint of animals. One of several stories demonstrating his kinship with animals involves a wolf that terrorized the town of Gubbio.

"St. Francis asked the wolf to calm down, take it easy, and be nice," Kaseta said. "And he did. That's a legend, but more profoundly, St. Francis saw all of creation as sacred. He had a great respect for all of God's creatures."

The Parish of the Holy Eucharist, which also includes Holy Martyrs Church in Falmouth, St. Jude Church in Freeport and St. Gregory Church in Gray, sponsored the blessing. Attendees received St. Francis tags for their pets' collars.

While canines made up a vast majority of the four-legged crowd, a pig named Henry drew a lot of attention.

"He's a racing pig," said Katie McGrath Holmquist, a 10-year-old from Gray who participates in 4-H club. "He races at the Cumberland Fair. After the fair, we brought him home. He likes graham crackers."

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.