Bless the Beasts
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Bless the Beasts
By Kim Mulford
Published by permission
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Religious groups are increasingly acknowledging the spirituality of animals
Do dogs go to heaven?
Bonnie Maurer thinks so. A few weeks ago, the Pine Hill resident brought her three pugs to an animal blessing ceremony at the Animal Welfare Association in Voorhees.
"I believe dogs have their own spirits," said Maurer, a 57-year-old who keeps the cremated remains of a beloved Pekingese in her china cabinet. "I brought them because I believe they have feelings and they're sensitive to our feelings. They're part of our family. I thought it was important to do that, for their health and well-being."
From animal blessing ceremonies to animal activism, a growing number of religious groups are acknowledging the spirituality of animals and their importance as God's creations.
For example, Christians, Jews and Muslims believe God appointed humans as caretakers of the animals.
God loves the animals, too, said the Rev. Shellie Pinner, a United Methodist pastor assigned by her bishop to work with PetPals of Southern New Jersey, a nonprofit agency based in Bellmawr. Just like people, animals are a part of his creation, she said.
"We sometimes miss the importance of that," said Pinner, who blessed Maurer's pugs. "We destroy the land. We dirty the waters. We devalue the animals. What does that mean in terms of who we are as God's children?"
It's a responsibility not talked about enough in the church, said Jan Fredericks, a licensed counselor and founder of God's Creatures Ministry, a nonprofit based in Wayne, Passaic County. She is a member of Catholic Concern for Animals and Christian Vegetarian Association.
"I think we owe it to God to learn as much as we can and make good choices," said Fredericks, a vegetarian who opposes using animals as products.
"God says it's OK to eat meat, but I don't think he's crazy about the way we treat animals," she added. "I think we need to teach more compassion . . . for all that he has made, including animals."
Some believe a greater force is at work, connecting certain animals with their caretakers.
PetPals works primarily with terminally ill clients and helps them care for their animals as long as possible. Pinner's clients tell her they get up in the morning because they have a pet to take care of.
That interdependent relationship is important and offers a peek into better understanding God, Pinner believes.
Frank L. Hoffman, a retired pastor based in Athens, N.Y., runs a Web site promoting compassion toward animals, called www.all-creatures.org . A vegan, Hoffman believes people are called by God to be caretakers, not killers, of animals.
"If we learn compassion toward animals, we would learn compassion toward our fellow human beings," said Hoffman.
Hoffman points to biblical passages that describe a heaven populated with animals. Many pet lovers, too, believe their animals will go to heaven.
So does Pinner, who has eight dogs and four foster cats.
"I believe that if heaven is a completed place, if heaven is a place of no tears and no worry, then I believe our animals are going to be there," Pinner said.
Animals know there is a divinity, said Dr. Elizabeth Severino, an animal communicator and interfaith minister based in Washington Township. And animals believe they are here to assist humans grow spiritually, by sharing their unconditional love, enthusiasm and patience, she said.
One day, future generations will advance in their understanding of animals, she said.
Severino has held many blessing ceremonies over 27 years. Recently, she has been asked to do more Christian ceremonies.
"That suggests to me that there is more awakening and awareness there," Severino said.
ON THE WEB
www.catholic-animals.org - Catholic Concern for Animals, a nonprofit based in Oxford, England, seeks to raise awareness of pro-animal Christian tradition.
www.all-creatures.org - Sponsored by retired pastor, this site provides links to other pro-animal Web sites and includes pro-animal sermons and Jewish vegetarian articles.
www.christianveg.com - Ecumenical Christian site promotes plant-based diet.
Kim Mulford writes about spiritual matters in her column Keeping the Faith, which appears on Saturdays in the Courier-Post's Living section.
Reach her at (856) 251-3342 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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