Former Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is now Pope Francis I. He chose the name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who founded an order of non-materialistic friars who cared for the poor and downtrodden. During his installation Mass, Pope Francis said he recognized his role, as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, to protect “the hungry, the strangers, the naked, the sick and people in prison”, and other vulnerable people.
Saint Francis is also a patron saint of animals. He brought caught fish back to their waterways, fed bees in winter and freed animals caught in traps. A 13th century painting shows Saint Francis preaching to the birds. He envisioned the natural world as a mirror in which one can see the reflection of God. He wrote “The Song of the Sun,” urging people to respect the natural world as the work of God and to protect all of God’s creatures.
St. Francis wrote, “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 do the same to their fellows.”
In his homilies and encyclicals, Pope Francis’ words also speak of kindness to animals. Some excerpts: “It is contrary to human dignity to make animals suffer or die needlessly…Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and wonderful…Jesus said of the birds of the air that none of them is forgotten before God. How then can we mistreat or harm them? … We must forcefully reject the idea that our being created in the image of God and our dominion over the Earth justifies absolute dominion over other creatures…”
But does Pope Francis practice what he preaches? It is disappointing that Francis has said or done nothing to stop the vivisection and dissection of animals in Catholic universities or schools, or to stop bullfighting or the abuse of animals during celebrations of patron saints in some nations. predominantly Catholic – even when these abuses occur. on church property.
Bullfighting involves smearing bulls’ eyes with petroleum jelly, stabbing them and, when they have fallen but are still conscious, cutting off their ears, hooves and tails. In order to impair their ability to defend themselves, the bulls are subjected to pre-fight torture, including the shaving of their horns, the stabbing of needles into their genitals, and the application of burning chemicals to their legs.
Every year in Spain there are 10,000 to 20,000 celebrations of patron saints which include live chicken beheading contests; to throw goats from steeples and drown them if they survive the fall; beating and tormenting bulls as they are chased through the streets (“The Running of the Bulls”); setting fire to the horns of living bulls – burning their eyes and faces as they thrash blindly in agony and terror; hanging live pigeons and squirrels in pots which are then pelted with rocks; forcing horses to run through huge bonfires.
In Brazil, the Farra Do Boi (“fun with the oxen”) festival is celebrated by people who hunt and torture oxen. Their legs are cut off, their chests cut open, their eyes gouged out, their tails cut off; sometimes the oxen are doused with gasoline and set on fire. During the Yaurar Fiesta in Peru, a condor is tied to the back of a bull. Either the condor dies trying to break free, or the condor kills the bull. If the bull survives, then people will kill it.
These types of cruel religious holidays, which take place in Spain, Portugal, France, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and other predominantly Catholic countries, sometimes occur under the blessing of a local priest. Even when priests and bishops in these countries wish to end bullfighting and animal torment in the name of a patron saint, they usually remain silent – especially when Church leaders in Rome have failed to condemn such horrible cruelty in countries where the Church has great influence.
The 16th-century Pope Pius V threatened with excommunication those who participated in or supported bullfights or religious celebrations involving animal abuse. He was the only pope to take such action. Pope Francis adheres to a long tradition of non-interference in these matters. The greatest need for François is to do more than “talk” about the importance of kindness to animals. He must “walk the march” doing everything in his power with strength and determination to end this repugnant cruelty. I believe that most Catholics around the world would appreciate the intervention of the Pope to put an end to these medieval and barbaric practices. In fact, many Catholic animal rights activists have tried – so far unsuccessfully – to persuade Pope Francis to truly become the Pope of Animals and to urge the Church to do much more than it does. did in favor of the animals subjected to the horrors described. in this writing.
Sister Helen Prejean is a Catholic nun known worldwide for befriending death row inmates and caring for victims of violent crime. His commendable efforts played a major role in shaping the Catholic Church’s now vigorous opposition to capital punishment. I have read his three books: “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States”; “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions;” and her most recent book, “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.”
Prejean describes herself as a progressive nun who supports the Church’s efforts to be as humanistic and humane as possible, but she does not mention any of the Church-related cruelties to animals described in this essay – even though she wrote that She learns from Native Americans that recognize the spirit of God “in everything—the land, the trees, the rivers, the animals,” and that all of God’s creations are entitled to moral consideration.
I admire Prejean for her human welfare efforts, but animals subjected to cruelty and injustice also need people like her to stand up for them, vigorously lobbying Church leaders to end to systemic cruelty to animals, especially in places where the Church is powerful enough to make a difference.