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The Very Rev. Katie Hargis says a blessing for Jasper, a kitten owned by Bree Witte, Sunday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral in Hastings.

Several pets attended church alongside their owners Sunday as part of the annual Pet Blessing Sunday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral.

The Very Rev. Katie Hargis said the pets remained calm through the service, almost as if they understood the significance of their surroundings. Her own mixed-breed rescue dog, Abby, sat patiently nearby as Hargis gave her sermon.

“I’m always amazed how the animals behave in church,” she said. “It’s fun to have animals in church.”

Church member Patrick Crawford of Hastings said St. Mark’s has opened its Pet Blessing Sunday service to animals for a couple years without incident. He brought his 3-year-old dog, Baxter, for the service.

The pet blessing has been a longstanding tradition celebrated on the Sunday closest to Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on the liturgical calendar.

Francis was a preacher and mystic in the 12th and 13th centuries who founded several religious orders and helped to reform the Christian Church through his example of living simply. He was known for his love of nature and is designated as the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Hargis said the unconditional love pets bestow upon their owners reflects the heart Jesus Christ has for His people.

“Our animals are a blessing to us,” she said. “It’s important we recognize that and we give them the blessing we can.”

Alan Witte of Hastings and his daughter, Bree, brought Briggs, their Australian shepherd/blue heeler mix, and new kitten Jasper.

Alan had to go home to bring the animals back for the blessing, but said it was worth the extra trip.

“They are an important part of our lives,” he said.

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