A cacophony of woofs, bleets, and chirps greeted churchgoers as they entered Saint John the Divine on Sunday.
Hundreds of Morningside Heights residents and their pets descended upon the cathedral at 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue for the Blessing of the Animals—a custom in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment.
Christine Pellicano came to the church with her dog, Giorgio, a maltese whose hair matches hers almost perfectly.
“I thought the sermon was really important. We also feel blessed that we have another year coming, to be blessed,” she said, adding that Giorgio was recently married. “That’s why he’s so happy today.”
Clergy members and children walked in step with llamas, yaks, and Nubian goats. A tortoise was rolled on a wooden plank, covered with a bed of flowers, to avoid slowing the procession down.
Linda Raeside of New Jersey walked the procession for the fifteenth straight year with her macaw, Chuckles.
“It’s a great thing every year. You see old friends, familiar faces. The kids love him, everyone loves him,” she said of Chuckles, who sported an “I Love New York” necklace. “He climbs on all their arms.”
The 27th annual event, which occurs the Sunday before the Feast of Saint Francis, involves a host of unusual ceremonies heralding Earth and the creatures that inhabit it.
Reverend James Kowalski’s sermon was framed around the issue of water’s importance as a natural resource, in light of the cathedral’s recent art exhibit, “The Value of Water.” His argument took on a political slant as he argued forcefully against the privatization of water.
“Water’s ownership, control, and delivery belong to the public domain today and tomorrow,” he said, reminding churchgoers that they were “stewards of creation.”
Over 400 choristers from the Berklee College of Music and high schools across the country joined in song throughout the ceremony. Dancers performed in the nave while a twirler paraded with a ribbon squid along the aisles.
Following the procession, a petting zoo, a face-painting station, food trucks, and representatives of charitable organizations lined the cathedral’s grounds. Carol Rothschild, who works for NYC Animal Care and Control, spoke of her efforts to inspire people to adopt. “You know, it’s hard. I think if we had a little Chihuahua here people would say, ‘Aw, that’s so cute, I want one.’ But hopefully it’s exposing people to the breed.” She lightly chuckled and continued, “You know buying a pit bull isn’t a split-second decision, but if people are able to say that they can be really wonderful animals, maybe one day in the future they’ll decide to adopt.”