Ever seen a couple of Dogs get married? In July 2023, the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reported that that’s exactly what happened at an Indonesian mall. While the ceremony was quickly met with backlash online, similar events have not only been tolerated but praised in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country.
MARRIED IN A MALL
In July 2023, two Alaskan Malamutes were reportedly “married’ by Capuchin Father Lorenzo Heli at a Jakarta mall as part of an elaborate ceremony complete with a procession. According to a 2023 article by UCA News, the Dog wedding cost over ten thousand dollars to facilitate.
The newlyweds — Jojo, the groom, and Luna, the bride — wore special outfits for the occasion: a tuxedo and a white dress. However, their and their human companions’ clothes were also reportedly of traditional Javanese style, angering groups championing Javanese culture.
Five days after the wedding, both human companions apologized to Indonesian activists in front of the press. What stood out, however, was Jojo’s fur parent Valentina Chandra’s apology to Catholics and the Archdiocese of Jakarta for what she termed the “[misrepresentation of] news of the blessing of animals,” according to UCA News.
The misrepresentation in question was the type of blessing Jojo and Luna received at the “wedding.” Did these two Dogs truly receive one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church?
NOT A WEDDING
Capuchin Father Lorenzo Heli of St. Francis of Assisi Tebet Parish clarified in a statement that he did not officiate a pet wedding between Jojo and Luna. All he officiated was a pet blessing, which he explained “Franciscans are used to doing” considering it “is very much in line with the spirituality of the Franciscan Order as taught and always lived by Saint Francis of Assisi.”
A 2011 HuffPost article by Jon M. Sweeney explains that pet blessings are nothing new. They’ve been held since St. Francis of Assisi began blessing animals a little over 800 years ago because he believed all creatures of God, including nonhuman animals, are blessed.
According to Sweeney, on a day between the years 1210 and 1215, St. Francis became the first to bless animals while he was on a walk. Reflecting on his life through prayer, St. Francis then began to speak to the Birds around him “as if to equals.” Sweeney wrote, “That day marks the beginning of the environmental movement, the beginning of the era when we begin to understand ourselves as intrinsically connected to all of creation.”
Since St. Francis’ death anniversary is celebrated on the fourth of October, Catholics continue to celebrate animals on this feast day as well. Parishes tend to schedule pet blessings and other animal services on the Sunday closest to the fourth of October, World Animal Day, each year, paying honor to the patron saint of animals and the environment.
St. Francis’ death anniversary falls on October 4. Parishes tend to schedule pet blessings on the Sunday closest to this date, also known as World Animal Day.
PET BLESSINGS IN THE PHILIPPINES
While other countries might protest at the thought of including nonhuman animals in religious ceremonies, the Philippines welcomes it.
For instance, in 2018, Euronews reported that fur parents in Manila celebrated World Animal Day by bringing their animal companions to church for pet blessings — mass and holy water included. Some families even included their fur babies in a parade for responsible pet ownership.
In 2020, when the Philippines had recorded over 330,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, Anthony Esguerra of VICE News reported that Filipinos still considered pet blessings a necessity.
Families in Metro Manila found a way around the government restrictions on church activities by utilizing a drive-through pet blessing station. One such location was Eastwood City, a residential and commercial complex which hosted priests who would pray over animals and sprinkle them with holy water while in their cars.
The pet blessings continued in 2021 and 2022, though the latter also saw the first ever pet weddings at the complex, with at least 15 pet wedding ceremonies officiated at the event. With such a strong, growing tradition surrounding the blessing of our nonhuman animal companions in the Philippines, there’s no doubt that more and more Filipinos are treating their fur babies as family.
WHICH RELIGION HELD THE FIRST PET BLESSINGS?
According to Sweeney, Judaism may have been the first to bless animals as a way to celebrate the freedom of all creatures when Hebrews were emancipated from slavery over 3,000 years ago. Jewish congregations worldwide also schedule pet blessings to honor portions of the Torah related to Noah’s ark.