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Le Monde
Le Monde
21 Oct 2023

An animal blessing at Saint John the Divine Cathedral, New York, on October 1, 2023.

A police horse waited on the sidewalk, a dog from the police dog unit tugged on its leash. Marble Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was holding its special blessing of animals ceremony that Sunday. Klara Hendrick, who usually comes alone, came with Rosa the tortoise. She was sure the animal didn't miss a minute of the sermon, as she saw it stick its neck out and turn its head towards a dog next to her when the pastor called for openness to people who aren't like us.

"He had it all figured out." He? "May I ask what Rosa's pronouns are?" asked Stan Williams, marketing manager of this parish of the Protestant Reformed Church, whose lapel is adorned with all manner of brooches of butterflies, birds, frogs... "He," replied Rosa's owner. "Thank you for asking, that's really thoughtful of you."

"Stupidly, I would have asked if it was a male or a female, I'm so old school," blurted out another parishioner, a little embarrassed. "You have to be sensitive," said Williams. In addition to Rosa, more than 100 animals made the trip. There were dogs of all sizes, a canary, a cat, children with soft toy animals, and people who took out their phones and asked Michael Bos or Elise Brown – the pastors of Marble Church – to bless the photos.

What could be more natural? The blessing of animals is an extension of the attitude of St. Francis of Assisi, the church explained. Various parishes in New York hold such blessings in October, such as Saint John the Divine Cathedral, where, on the previous Sunday, a camel and ostriches were among the 1000 animals blessed. At Marble Church, the blessing of the animals, despite its air of old Christian tradition, has only been taking place for six years and is one of the initiatives through which the parish is trying to forge links with those who have become estranged from religion.

The decline of faith is one of the most striking phenomena in the USA over the last 30 years. Three in 10 American adults say they have no religious affiliation, a number that has never been higher, rising to 43% among those under 30. "It's important that we do this on the street in front of the church, not inside. Some people are intimidated by going into a church..." observed Williams. "My two dogs are in there," said a chic blonde lady, pointing to her black leather handbag, which she explained contained their ashes. People with pets are often lonely, the parish found, and blessings are also a way of reaching out to them.

In her mistress' arms, Peppermint was wearing a pompom collar for the occasion. This 14-year-old dog has spent her life making the rounds of retirement homes, convalescent homes and hospitals. "She's retiring after a career in therapy," said her proud owner.

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