Every year on the 4th of October, devotees bring their pets to the Baclaran shrine—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals. This is in commemoration of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It was On October 4th, 2005, that a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine.
Saint Francis is associated with the patronage of animals. Francis’ deep love of God overflowed into love for all God’s creatures—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers and his (unsuccessful) attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, and his insistence that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God.
Because of Francis legacy, it has become customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to carry out animal blessing ceremonies on his feast day of 4 October. The secular world has also recognized Francis’ legacy by celebrating in October 4 the World Animal Day, an annual celebration of international day of action for animal rights and welfare.
Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis not just with a blessing of animals but also with prayers for creation. Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.
The shrine in recent years has become sanctuary to many animals. Stray dogs and cats hang around the shrine and the convent every day not to mention the rats, bats, and the birds which has made the shrine their home ever since the shrine was built. The presence in the shrine of skinny and smelly dogs and cats abandoned by their human owners is a sad reminder of human’s cruelty to animals and of the abdication of our sacred duty as stewards of creation.
Outside the shrine, however, animals of various kinds enjoy the security and food that nature provides. The various hardwood and fruit trees in the shrine compound provide sanctuary for many birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds. We just assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages. The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.
In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound. The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo. It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.
On this feast of St. Francis, we are reminded that care for animals and the promotion of the integrity of creation is an essential expression of our devotion and faith. In the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena, the shrine incorporated into the novena a petition that expresses this:
That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.
 Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Narcissus_flycatcher.