Livestock, Pets Flock To St. Peter's Square For Feast Day Blessing

Bleats, barks and honks accompanied the "Our Father" as Cardinal Angelo Comastri blessed farm animals and pets gathered outside St. Peter's Square.

Hundreds of local residents and tourists gathered for the Jan. 17 blessing to mark the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, patron saint of animals and farmers.

Members of an Italian association of farmers and ranchers brought their donkeys, cows, horses, rabbits, hens, geese, sheep, goats and pigs, who munched on hay or feed in their wooden pens.

Many Rome residents brought their pets -- ranging from a giant Neapolitan Mastiff to a tiny kitten named Birba, who got a special caress from the cardinal, the papal vicar for Vatican City. Cats and dogs could enjoy a free veterinary checkup at two tents nearby.

Italian police mounted on horseback paraded up the wide boulevard leading to the square and two police dogs, with their agents, circled and sniffed pedestrians enthusiastically -- unaware they were off-duty to get a blessing.

Before the blessing, Cardinal Comastri celebrated a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica with members of the livestock association and their families.

Standing near the animals' pens, he thanked Italian farmers for helping care for nature and providing communities with healthy, wholesome food.

He said Pope Francis has reminded people of their duty to protect creation.

The cardinal said the recent cleaning and restoration of Bernini's colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square revealed the extent and seriousness of urban pollution.

Workers spent the past five years scrubbing and sandblasting off black grime, showing just how much pollution is ending up in people's lungs, he said.

He said he hoped the farmers' example of being ethical and honest stewards of God's gifts would "become contagious" and influence everyone.

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