Area spiritual leaders will put in a good word for a different kind of congregation this week — one that includes dogs, cats, birds and other pets.
Local groups will participate in the annual "blessing of the animals" in observance of the feast of St. Francis. Events are open to the public free of charge; pets must be on a leash or in a carrier.
The events honor St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), author of the poem Canticle to the Sun, praising the way God works through creation. Known for his rapport with animals, he has become the patron of natural conservation, as a reminder of the beauty of God's creation and humankind's role in ensuring its care and proper use.
St. Lawrence Catholic Church will bless pets at 7 p.m. Thursday on the grassy area of the church grounds at 5225 N. Himes Ave., between Higgins Hall and the school building.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church will sponsor Friars, Food Trucks and Furry Buddies from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Academy, 3515 N. Florida Ave.
The event, in cooperation with Spirit 90.5 FM Radio, will include a blessing procession at 11:30 a.m., Humane Society of Tampa Bay adoptable animals and a collection of donations of canned or dry pet food for the humane society and St. Vincent de Paul Society. Food trucks will have food for sale.
In Temple Terrace, St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church will bless animals at the outdoor altar on Saturday at noon. St. Francis medals will be given to each pet, and a cookout will follow.
Judging by the turnouts from last year, hundreds of animals are expected to be blessed at the events. Although most will be dogs, there are always a few cats and an occasional bird, reptile or rabbit. Even hedgehogs have been blessed in past years.
"We feel our pets are part of the family," said Linda Cardamone, owner of the Three Legged Poodle in Wimauma, where a pet blessing will take place on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. "We love them like every other family member and want them to live a long, happy life. That's why we bring our animals to be blessed."