When watching nature shows on TV, I marvel at the animals: their intelligence, their rituals, their
instincts, their ability to fly thousands of miles. I am amazed by their ability to hunt, to communicate, to establish hierarchies, to mate for life—indeed their very presence.
The more I observe and learn, the deeper my appreciation of the genius, the beauty, the adaptability, the ingenuity and the elegance of animals becomes. The more we all learn from and about animals, the easier it becomes to rebuke the belief that they are mindless machines tantamount to a pencil sharpener or a lawn mower without awareness or feeling. The more we learn only behooves us to form a wiser and more mystical concept of animals.
During his 1982 visit to Assisi, Blessed John Paul II invoked the spirit of St. Francis when he said in his message on reconciliation, “Creation is the marvelous work of the hand of God. His solicitous care, not only towards men, but also towards animals and nature in general, is a faithful echo of the love with which God in the beginning pronounced his ‘fiat’ which had brought them into existence. How can we not feel vibrating in the Canticle of the Creatures something of the transcendent joy of God the Creator?”
St. Francis, the son of a prosperous Italian cloth merchant whose birthday on October 4 has given rise to “World Day for Animals,” has also provided documentation by historians of the intelligence of animals.
Historians relate the story of the man-eating wolf of Gubbio to cite the striking rapport that can take place between humans and animals. The wolf terrorized the citizens of the Italian city of Gubbio for many years with his predatory attacks on humans and other animals. Recognizing that the wolf’s ways had sprung from hunger, St. Francis communicated to the wolf that the townspeople would provide food for him as long as he, in return, would not harm another human or animal.
Historians are in agreement that the wolf bowed his head in acceptance of the saint’s offer, and for the rest of his life the wolf respected the covenant, going from house to house every day to be fed by the townspeople until he died of old age.