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The relationship between animals and humans is a fruitful topic across many belief systems and ideologies.

Household pets, service animals, care of livestock, whether animals have souls and many other topics have long been matters of discussion and debate. Whether providing companionship, spiritual comfort or vital assistance, we seem to agree animals can have a significant impact on the humans they encounter.

One popular way to honor animals is through special services that coincide with the Feast of St. Francis. In many church calendars, the day takes place on Oct. 4, the anniversary of Francis’ death.

In the metro area, Unity Presbyterian Church will host its Blessing of the Pets at 1 p.m. Sunday. The service is free and open to the community.

Attendees can bring any pets, secured on a leash or in a carrier. The Rev. Christine Kaplunas will lead a brief service to honor the “love and comfort provided to all by God’s creatures.” It will include a story, prayers and a blessing for animals and their humans.

The weather forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a high in the mid 40s. The service will be moved inside the church if it

rains.

The Blessing of the Pets leads into Westminster Presbyterian Church’s annual Fall Fest event, which will take place at Barn Stahl Petting Zoo in Wellsburg. The event begins at 3 p.m. Sunday, and tickets are $5, at https://wpcw.org/fallfest/.

The afternoon’s emphasis recalls the influence of Francis of Assisi, who was renowned for his love of animals and nature. Across the globe, millions of animals are blessed by clergy of a variety of denominations, in conjunction with Francis’ feast day. These events often coincide with fund drives for animal shelters.

Born in Italy in the early 1180s, Francis is renowned and beloved by people of many faiths, thanks largely to his work ministering to lepers and his love of animals. The Franciscan monastic order he founded is named for him. Francis died in 1226 at the estimated age of 44. His legacy is associated with service to nature, animals and those living in poverty. He was canonized by Pope Gregory IX less than two years later. The tradition of celebrating Francis by blessing animals may have come to the United States from Germany.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at

onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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