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University welcomes dogs, cat, and even alpacas for the annual Franciscan animal blessing

Love thy neigh-bour: Franciscan Father Harry Chan with police officers and two horses from the Queensland Police Mounted Division.

“EVERYONE loves animals,” Colleen Tracey said, holding her Maltese cross bichon frise dog Teddy at this year’s Australian Catholic University Brisbane campus animal blessing on September 12.

Mrs Tracey, the Brisbane campus ministry staff pastoral associate, said animals had a way of bringing people together and knocking down barriers.

“This is a celebration of the interconnectedness of all creation in the spirit of St Francis (of Assisi),” she said.

Franciscan Fathers Harry Chan and Mario Debattista spread the blessings over the animals, great and small.

Fr Chan said he had been praying for the people and the animals affected by the recent bushfires. 

“I keep them all in my prayers,” he said.

A shared love of animals brought students from across the campus down onto the grass outside Holy Spirit Chapel.

“This is a fun (event) and in the spirit of St Francis, he called creatures his brothers and sisters,” Fr Chan said.

“That’s why we have these animal blessings – to bless means to praise, to give thanks and also … means joy and happiness. 

“They give us joy in our lives, joy and comfort.”

Among the animals present were two service horses from the Queensland Police Mounted Division, a petting zoo – including chickens, sheep, ducks and an alpaca – from Animals to You, as well as K.M. Smith’s therapy dog Archie and a guide dog named Ruffle. 

Best friends: Campus ministry staff pastoral associate Colleen Tracey with her dog Teddy.

Fr Debattista said it was lovely to see so many people enjoying the day together. 

But he said there was a deeper theological message involved in St Francis’ depictions as a carer of animals taken from the hagiographical accounts of his life.

“I think in today’s climate, it’s often interpreted as somehow (St) Francis was an animal lover, which is not really what (he) was on about,” Fr Debattista said.

He said there were stories about St Francis and the animals, but it was not the whole picture.

“(St) Francis was really more about recognising that we are part of creation and because we are part of creation, and we are brothers and sisters of creation, and we are all one things in creation,” he said.

“Everything was seen from the perspective of God; everything is interconnected and related, which should be treated with respect that is due.”

Fr Debattista said St Francis’ Canticle of the Sun was a lovely expression of that.

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