Deacon John P. Orlandello stretched the sign of the cross with his hand over the head of a small grey kitten named Smokey. “May you be blessed in the name of God who created you,” said Orlandello. “May you and you and your companion enjoy a wonderful life.” He splashed a drop of holy water from a small plastic bottle on the kitten’s head as he let it run off.
Last Saturday, Deacon Orlandello of St. Francis of Paola Church on Conselyea Street visited the animal shelter to bless 38 cats, 15 dogs, five kittens, three rabbits and one beige fancy pigeon with feathered feet, all housed in Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC) to honor St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day.
“Animals are part of God’s created nature, [so] we give them blessing,” said Orlandello.
St. Francis of Assisi is considered the patron saint of the environment in the Catholic Church. On his feast day, celebrated on, or close to, October 4, many Catholic Churches perform animal blessing ceremonies to recognize animals as God’s creations, said Pastor Marek Sobczak of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Greenpoint. The ceremony usually takes place in the church’s space, such as a school or a courtyard, where pet-owners line up with their animals. The clergy member says a prayer from the Book of Genesis, touches each animal’s head and splashes them with a tiny drop of holy water.
“It’s not magic. Holy water will not protect them. It’s more symbolic than anything, an invitation for people to see the beauty of animals,” said Sobczak.
Usually Orlandello performs the ceremony at his church, but this year, he ventured out to the animal shelter for the first time in order to be more competitive. He looked at what other churches in the neighborhood were doing, and decided to take the show on the road, as it were.
BARC usually participates in blessing its animals annually. Throughout previous years, clergymen from surrounding churches have visited the shelter to bless the animals or the resident-animals were brought to the churches for the occasion, said Vincent Spinola, the director of BARC.
“We believe in doing everything possible for the animals,” said Spinola.
Hipster Williamsburg residents Amy and Colin, who did not want to give their last names, were looking to adopt a kitten. They said they don’t care whether the animal was blessed or not. Another Williamsburg couple, Anna Jacobs and Luke Redmond, looking to adopt a kitten as well, were not aware that the animals were blessed just minutes before they’ve arrived. Although it did not make a difference in their adoption decision, they thought it was nice that the church recognizes the sanctity of animals and all things.
BARC volunteer Leslie Simmons said the blessing is a wonderful idea. “I’m Jewish and I still love it. I think it’s a lovely sentiment,” said Simmons.