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St Francis & Other Animal Heroes

St. Francis

St. Francis was born in Assisi in 1182. After a care free youth, he turned his back on inherited wealth and committed himself to God. He lived a very simple life of poverty, and gained a reputation of being the friend of animals, later becoming Patron Saint of Animals and the environment. He died in 1226, aged 44.

Francis had a great love for animals with special fondness for the birds, who he famously preached I'm certainly not the first person to talk to the animals! He liked to refer to animals as his brothers and sisters, along with Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Legend has it that wild animals had no fear of Francis and even came to him seeking refuge from harm. One particular wild animal that responded to Francis was the wolf that was terrorising the town of Gubbio in Italy - Francis asked it to stop killing the townspeople and their livestock, make peace with them and in return the locals would feed it daily, which they did, as it visited each home , door to door, and was given food for the remaining 2 years of its life.

The words of Saint Francis express his respect and love for all creatures, and ring true to this day:
All creatures are created from the same paternal heartbeat of God. Not to hurt our humble brethren [the animals] is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.
God requires that we assist the animals when they need our help. Each being (human or creature) has the same right of protection.
If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

There are many wonderful stories of St Francis' special bond with animals & birds & the trust that these creatures had in him. Once, when he was staying in the town of Greccio, a hare was caught in a trap and brought live to Francis by a brother. Seeing the hare, the blessed man was moved to pity and said, "Brother hare, come here. Why did you let yourself be fooled in this way?" As soon as the hare was released by the brother he dashed over to Francis and, without being forced to do so, sat into his lap as the safest place available. When he had rested there a while, Francis let him go so that he could return to the wild. Each time he was placed on the ground, the hare ran back to Francis' lap. Finally Francis asked that the brothers carry him to a nearby forest to be released...


St Francis has long been one of my heroes; as a child I loved to read the stories of his association with animals and I carry a strong connection to him to this day. I am honoured to receive his gentle guidance in every animal communication I undertake. I was even named after his close friend and fellow animal lover St Clare! She had the same deep passion for animals and could often be found among the wild flowers in the hills of Assisi, speaking to the animals, nursing their wounds and soothing their fears (one source even describes her "soft, beautiful attunement to them") She often brought injured and abandoned creatures back to the hermitage she lived in, nurturing them gently until they were ready to be released back where she found them.  This is one of the few pictures of St Clare with her beloved cat - who featured in her Will!


Albert Schweitzer

"Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace." Born in 1875 in Alsace at a time when it was under German rule, Albert was the son of a Lutheran minister. His empathy was all-encompassing, and led to a lifetime of service to all forms of life. His message was: "Reverence for Life gives us something more profound and mightier than the idea of humanism. It includes all living beings (his emphasis). We reject the idea that man is 'Master' of other creatures, 'Lord' above all others. We must realise that all life is valuable and that we are united to all life. By ethical conduct toward all creatures, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the Universe." In his own time, Albert Schweitzer was as widely known for the extensive network of medical help he established in West Africa as Mother Teresa is known for her ministry to the sick and dying in India. And like Mother Teresa, Dr. Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1952).


Hear our humble prayer, O God,
for our friends the animals,
especially for animals who are suffering;
for animals that are over worked, underfed, cruelly treated; 
for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars;
for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry;
for all that must be put to death.
We entreat for them all the mercy and pity,
and for those who deal with them 
we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. 
Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals
and so to share the blessings of the merciful.
By Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Sri Ramana Maharshi

Ramana saw God in everything. He had the utmost respect for animals, and there are many wonderful stories of his interactions with them.
He showed the same consideration to animals as to people, and animals were drawn to him just as people were. Birds and squirrels would build their nests close to him and mother monkeys were often seen to bring their babies to him for blessings, in the same way human mothers would bring their children for blessings. He never referred to animals in the usual Indian style as ‘it’ but always as ‘he’ or ‘she.’ At meal time at the ashram the animals were always fed first, then any beggars who might have chanced by, and then the devotees. He referred to the ashram dogs as “the Lads.”

Despite protests from his followers, Ramana would not have the snakes who inhabited the ashram grounds killed. He felt that the human beings had invaded their home and that they should be respected. He treated the snakes with the greatest reverence and respect and no one was ever harmed by one. Many animals would gather in the evenings when he sat in the hall to talk and pray with his devotees. The local monkeys considered him one of their own. Once he had been walking with a group of people. They had gone much farther than they expected that day and had become very hungry. Out of nowhere appeared a band of monkeys who swarmed to the top of a high fig tree shaking its branches so that all of the fruit dropped to the ground for him and his followers. The monkeys left as quickly as they had appeared taking no fruit for themselves.

Kuan Yin

Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion is often associated with compassion for animals. “Kuan-yin” means “She Who Listens to the World’s Sounds,” she chose the role as the compassionate assistant to all who find themselves in distress. Like all Bodhisattvas, her goal is to free all sentient beings from suffering, to help “all beings on earth to attain enlightenment”. Kuan Yin embodies Buddhist spiritual perfection—wisdom and love; she is the “essence of mercy and compassion”. From the Buddhist viewpoint, those who are knowledgeable, those who are spiritually enlightened, are also compassionate. To be cruel is to be spiritually ignorant. To be perfectly compassionate is to be perfect. To harm other creatures is not compassionate or consistent with Buddhist morality.

The Buddhist Sutta-Nipa¯ta includes the following beautiful contribution to spiritual literature encouraging compassion in humankind

May all
be blessed with peace always;
all creatures weak or strong,
all creatures great and small;
creatures unseen or seen
dwelling afar or near,
born or awaiting birth,
— may all be blessed with peace!

. . . as with her own life
a mother shields from hurting her own,
her only child, —
let all-embracing thoughts
for all that lives be thine,
— an all-embracing love
for all the universe.

St Martin de Porres

Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru in 1579, the unwanted child of a Spanish grandee and a freed African slave. He was an unusual, bright and gifted child with a mystical bond with nature. Even in early childhood he was fascinated by plants and felt that plants had healing properties.
Because of his lonely, difficult and often painful childhood he was compassionate and generous with everyone. He joined the Dominican order and because of his early training with a surgeon he ministered to Lima's sick - people and animals alike; he saw no difference. To Martin all living beings were sacred and he loved and ministered to each the same.
Because of his great love for the natural world and his attunement to plants and their healing properties he became a herbalist. He offered his services as a doctor and herbalist free of charge and distributed many thousands of dollars worth of food and clothing to the poor each week - all of which he begged from wealthy families. He founded an orphanage for homeless children and staffed it with the best teachers, nurses and guardians he could find. On the hills of Lima he planted orchards to feed the poor.
Martin loved animals, and like St. Francis of Assisi considered them children of God. He cared for them with the same tenderness and reverence with which he treated his human patients, mixing herbal formulas for them and performing surgery when necessary. Like St. Francis his love for the animals was well known and he could be seen walking along the streets of Lima with a following of animals who were magnetised by his loving radiance. He never passed by a sick or suffering animal, but took each home with him. He would lovingly nurse their wounds with herbs and their spirits with prayers. He eventually opened a hospital for sick and injured animals.


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