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The Blessing of the Animals in Mexico
Colorful Floats at Xochimilco
The Charming Ceremony for Pets
Mexicans, in fact, Hispanic races in general, are not noted for their exemplary treatment of animals. Having lived in Mexico for many years, I have found that reports of cruelty there may be unfounded in many cases. Yes, Gringos and others who visit see packs of semi-feral dogs on the streets and the odd visitor is prone to adopting a lost dog down there from one of the barely adequate shelters. But Mexicans don’t go out of their way to be cruel to dogs, rather, they have little interest in them and are more concerned with their kids.
I have heard and seen more cruelty towards pets in the USA and the UK, where dog-fighting takes place in secret locations and thousands of pets are abandoned - the “Christmas” puppies: despite this, the British in particular, see themselves as a race of animal lovers and feel free to wax loquacious on other nation’s behavior.
In fact, the laissez-faire attitude south of the border actually allows dogs to live a sort of life on the streets and beaches, etc., where they would have been picked up by the dog-catcher in our more organized societies and many euthanized.
You rarely see feral cats on the streets in Mexico, a fact which was explained to me at an animal shelter, “The wild dogs or coyotes eat them, senor,” was the explanation!
But there is one enchanting ceremony, unknown to many visitors, which makes me think there is more love and more loving owners in Mexico than meets the eye. This is the Blessing of the Animals, a ceremony held in rural churches and chapels in January each year.
In Taxco, the silver capital, situated in Guerrero State, high in the Sierra Madre mountains, the ceremony is conducted under the auspices and blessing of St Anthony.
Some time after the noon heat has left the square in front of the Santa Prisca church, a queue of dusty folk wearing traditional garb begins to form out side the walls surrounding the establishment. Some are kids alone or with parents: they have tykes and kitties in their arms or on leads; others carry cages with budgies or parrots in them, some announcing in definite terms that, “Hey, it’s - squawk - hot here, get on with it!”
Other kids have livestock, several burros wait in their patient manner, their gentle faces reflecting perhaps what Christ intended for us all.
Rabbits and chickens were there in the dozens, the hens protesting this attention vigorously, while the rabbits did what they always do, suffered in silence and produced a few hundred brown beads.
Crowds had gathered in the square to watch their fellow citizens turn up with the family pet; a buzz of interest could be heard as Senor Ruiz was identified with his Chihuahua, or the daughter of Senora Adams, a resident Gringa, bore an impossibly fluffy kitten.
Some of the pets had been suitably adorned for the occasion with ribbons and flowers tucked behind their collars. One of the burros (donkeys) had a huge green crinoline collar.
Soon, so many owners and pets had arrived, that side of the square in front of the church railings was as full as a corral in a stock market. It seems as if every pet owner in the state had converged on Santa Prisca.
At around 5 PM, the priest finally arrived, a broad smile on his swarthy countenance. The crowd surged towards and into the broad church entrance. The priest held up his hands in a calming gesture. Hundreds of beseeching arms held up the beloved pets, crying to get the prelate’s attention, “Por aqui, por aqui, they importuned.
Intoning a blessing, “Bless all these simple creatures and allow them to live in comfort and free of taint,” he said, meanwhile sprinkling holy water on them with a brush and a small bucket he carried. The more persistent children with the smaller, more maneuverable pets managed to pass their beloved bird, rabbit or hen several times under the sprinkling holy water: they retreated with the satisfaction their pet was doubly or triply blessed; the bedraggled budgie and kitten was maybe not so happy, but they soon dried in the 80 degree F heat.
The priest waited for 30 minutes or so outside the church, obliging a few sweaty latecomers and their pets with a few drops of holy water. Then it was time for a couple of volunteer cleaners with carts to enter the church and remove a small pile of “blessings” the animals had seen fit to leave.
I saw this ceremony in Taxco in about 1994 and this is how I remember it, I doubt if it has changed much.
This was in January, it may differ in other locations or even have changed dates in Taxco.