Sunday, January 27, 2008

Blessing of the Animals

The Blessing of the Animals at the Oratorio in San Miguel on January 17th, the day of San Antonio Abad.

Several years ago while sitting on a bench outside a church in Michoacan I saw a man leading a cow adorned with a wreath of flowers towards the entrance of the church. A few minutes later he was followed by an old woman wrapped in a rebozo carrying an enormous bird cage containing a squawking parrot. Now what? I thought, and turned to watch, waiting to see another of Mexico’s mysterious traditions unfold. A boy tugging at a goat on a frayed rope came next, followed by what appeared to be his little sister, clutching a speckled chicken to her small chest. Then another cow, a spindly legged lamb, a canary in a small wooden cage, a basket full of kittens, and a dog of questionable breed with a bright pink ribbon around it’s neck, lead by an old man bent over a gnarled walking stick. Patiently, the small contingent of humans and animals stood at the church door as if awaiting a small arc. Finally the door to the church opened and the padre appeared in white robes with a bowl of holy water, which he began to sprinkle onto the heads of the beasts, each one in turn. And so I it was that I learned of the blessing of the animals that takes place on January 17th, the day of San Antonio Abad, at churches all over Mexico.
Here in San Miguel the scene is slightly different, with poodles and chihuahuas leading the pack, along with a few reptiles and birds as well as a pair of ferrets. All of which are outnumbered by camera toting gringos as they weave among the faithful with their point and shoots and imposing telephotos. Two picturesque small twin boys carrying little bird cages become a prime photo op are surrounded. The ferrets are released from their cage and the cameras click away. A teenage girl with a yellow snake entwined on her arm waves it proudly for the cameras. The Mexicans in their seemingly infinite tolerance don’t seem to mind, however, and neither do the expats, strutting their finely quaffed poodles and miniature chihuahuas, adorned with crocheted little outfits, some of which designed to match to the outfits of the proud owners themselves. To them it is a chance to show off their precious bundles of joy. Faith and meaning mingle with pride and ego, and the humble padre does his job, reminding us of how grateful we should be for the gifts that these animals give us with their companionship, loyalty and song. Reminding us that all of God’s creatures deserve His love and blessings. Including gringos, I presume.

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