The feast of St. Francis is rapidly approaching, traditionally a time to make appointments to have the pets groomed, bathed and looking spiffy.

After all, you want Fido and Fluffy to sparkle for the annual blessing of the animals held at parishes nationwide throughout the commemorating St. Francis’ feast day, which is Oct. 4. But what’s one to do when the country is in the midst of a pandemic?

Pets can also be infected with COVID-19, although research is still a bit spotty regarding if they can pass the virus along to their owners. Regardless, owners are not likely to take a risk of exposing their beloved pets to the deadly virus.

Rest easy, relief is readily available.

Father John Dear, a priest in the Diocese of Monterey, California, in conjunction with PETA has established a recorded phone blessing that is accessible across the country. All one has to do is call 1-833-Assisi to have your favorite animal, who is likely more of a four-legged or winged family member than a pet, blessed and not worry about being exposed to the coronavirus.

Father Dear, a noted author of more than 35 books on peace and nonviolence and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, established the blessing hotline a year ago, which will undoubtedly be much busier as pet owners in the pandemic era remain quarantined or continue to work from home.

The annual blessing of the animals reflects St. Francis’ love for all creatures, especially the larks that were often spotted flying in Assisi, the hilltop town in Italy where the future saint was raised. In fact, according to legend, St. Francis, the patron saint of Italy, and his early brothers were staying at a small hovel but agreed to be displaced by a donkey.

St. Francis was a holy man who disposed of all of his earthly possessions, much to the chagrin of his father, providing him the freedom to say, “Our father in heaven.”

Even though he died at a relatively young age of 44, he left behind a legacy of inspiration, devotion and love for the Lord. Two years before he died, he received the stigmata, which is the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side.

During the blessing of the animals, the priest prays a specific prayer as he gently sprinkles the animals with holy water. Reactions among the critters range from calmness to pets scurrying away from their owners, causing quite the commotion. Thankfully, the truants are usually captured within minutes.

Franciscan Animal Blessings

FOR ALL ANIMALS

Blessed are you, Lord God,
maker of all living creatures.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation,
you called forth fish in the sea,
birds in the air, and animals on the land.
You inspired St. Francis to call all animals
his brothers and sisters.
We ask you to bless this animal.
By the power of your love,
enable (him or her) to live according
to your plan.

May we always praise you
for all your beauty in creation.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.