Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Why Do We Celebrate World Animal Day?

Did you know it's World Animal Day today? Do you celebrate it?

When I was in elementary school, the 4th of October was considered a very special day. It was the international day of the animals, which meant that the children in my class were allowed to take their pets to school. That was so much more fun than just doing math exercises! I wonder, though, if it was more fun for the children than for the poor animals, who were suddenly the center of all the attention...

World Animal Day is also the day on which people pamper their pets just a little bit more. Maybe you've given your dog special cookies, or you bought a new toy for your cat. And people who don't have pets themselves, sometimes donate money to animal protection organizations.

But is World Animal Day really that traditional? Where does it come from and why do we celebrate it?

The initiative for creating a World Animal Day was started around 1930, so almost 90 years back. The origin of the idea traces back to several different people, but they had one thing in common: they all wanted to raise attention for abused and endangered animals. So while it's still a relatively new holiday, it has a very important reason for existing.

The reason why the 4th of October was chosen, is because it's the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. (random fun fact: that's the same Francis that the current pope named himself after) Still, the day is meant for everyone who loves animals, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political viewpoint.

Why was the day of Saint Francis of Assisi chosen, then? It's because he's the patron saint of animals. And there are some pretty good reasons for that. In my opinion, he is a very interesting saint, so I would like to tell you a bit more about his life, even if there are different versions of the story.

Saint Francis was born in Italy in the 12th century, to very wealthy and successful parents. Growing up in such riches made him develop a wild lifestyle, not very different from some modern day celebrities. His father named him Francis because he wanted him to love France and become a successful businessman like himself. He went to parties all the time with his friends, in the fanciest clothes. His hobbies were drinking and chasing the most beautiful girls.

Now you might wonder: how did a guy like this become a Catholic saint? Well, it took a while for him to change. When Assisi declared war to a nearby city, Francis started to fight in the army to fulfill his dream of being a knight. However, during this war he was imprisoned for a year by the enemy troops in a dark dungeon. Yet even after this awful experience, he remained a party animal and he still wanted to be a knight like those in the French stories.

Yet one day when he was riding his horse to fight in the Fourth Crusade, he was ordered to return home by God in a dream. After that he became more and more devoted to religion, spending a lot of time in prayer. He even used his father's money to repair a church. However, when his angry father demanded it back, Francis did not only gave him the money, but also all the clothes he was wearing! Then he went to the forest, naked, after saying: "Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'" 

After that he became a preacher for the poor. He also started preaching to the birds in the forest. That's why he became famous for his strong bond with animals. One of my favorite legends about him shows another reason why:

There was a wealthy town in Italy, named Gubbio. And this town had a huge problem. Every now and then, a ferocious wolf would sneak out from the woods at night and devour the livestock of the farmers. Sometimes, if it could get its paws on one of the villagers, he would attack them and rip them to shreds.

Of course this wolf caused tremendous fear in the town, so in their despair the villagers had already sent a few hunters into the woods. But the disturbing truth was that every single person who tried to kill the wolf, would fall victim to its sharp teeth and die.

Back then, Francis already had a reputation of being a friend of the animals, like a kind of animal whisperer. So as a last resort, the villagers decided to send two messengers to Francis in Assisi, who asked him for help. When Francis arrived in Gubbio, the townspeople asked him if he could kill the wolf or sent it to their enemy town, Spoletto. Being moved by the heartbreaking story of the villagers, Francis prayed for wisdom and then went to sleep.

The next morning he looked for the wolf in the forest. When the wolf noticed him, it approached Francis with a threatening look in his eyes, as if planning for an attack. Yet Francis did not run. Instead, he prayed and said: “Come Brother Wolf, I will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace.”

The wolf sensed that Francis' intention was very different from that of the previous visitors. Little by little, the atmosphere grew less hostile and he started to trust Francis more. Knowing that this kind stranger would listen, he decided to tell him why he attacked all those people.

He lifted his paw and showed it to Francis. It was wounded. Francis understood that this wound prevented the wolf from running fast enough to hunt animals in the wild. That's why he was left with no other choice but to eat the cattle in the town to survive.

However, when the townspeople noticed him eating their livestock, some of them started to attack him. The wolf only fought back to defend itself. It was a depressing situation for him too and he wished he didn't have to do it, but he had to survive in some way.

When Francis discovered this, he felt deep compassion for Brother Wolf, knowing that he felt sorry for his actions. He found a solution that would benefit both parties. And so he brought the wolf to the town. When the villagers saw this, at first they were shocked and enraged. But trusting Francis' wisdom, they let him speak.

He told them the story of the wolf and then offered a peaceful solution: "If you feed Brother Wolf, he promises not to eat your livestock anymore. He will swear never to kill any of your people again." This solution was hard for people to agree with at first. Of course the loss of their friends and family members still hurt. Yet Francis reminded them that it would be safer. The wolf could even protect them from their enemy town.

Though it was hard for the family of the victims at first, they noticed that forgiveness felt very liberating. Knowing that Brother Wolf had been suffering from hunger, they started to feed him everyday. The town became the wolf's second home and the people even started to love him. They felt happy and safe now, knowing that the wolf had become their ally and best friend.

Source of this story:

In today's world, we could still learn a lot from St. Francis and show a bit more compassion for the animals. An alarming amount of species are endangered now because of hunters and most of all, because of climate change. Maybe on this October 4th we can all try to do something small to help them. Here's a list of small things each of us can try. Choose one in the list to make your contribution, or invent your own idea!

❀ Have a meat free day, which would help save the rainforest for the monkeys. It will also put less CO2 in the air.
❀ Donate some money to an animal protection charity. It could just be $1 - literally any amount helps.
❀ Take the public transport for one day instead of the car, so that there's less CO2 in the air. This will help stop the ice from melting for the polar bears.
❀ Refill your plastic water bottle for one day, instead of buying a new one. This will create less waste in the sea, so we can save the sea animals.

Do you have more tips? Please let us know in the comments so we can help the animals ♡ 

Wishing you a fantastic World Animal Day,

~Mayte ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭*

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