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Blessings and a Doggie Bag in Eastchester

EASTCHESTER, N.Y. -- Henri and Jacques Simmons were groomed, fluffed and church-ready to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi at Immaculate Conception Church Tuesday night.

"I love St. Francis," said their owner Jacquiline Simmons. "I think it is important that they are blessed. We come every year."

The feast of St. Francis, the Patron Saint of animals, is celebrated on October 4.

St. Francis of Assisi was an Italian monk, born around 1181. Born into wealth and priviledge, Francis lived a good life until he returned from war in around 1204. When he came back he became a Catholic friar and preacher.

Legend has it that Francis was traveling when he came upon a place in the road where birds filled nearby trees. Francis called to the birds, who came to him and were quiet as he prayed aloud to them. In 1224, Francis wrote a poem praising God for all creatures.

Father Raaser said he has presided over the blessing held outside on the front steps for the last six years.

"I gave up trying to preach a few years ago," Raaser said. "Now we just have a blessing."

Raaser said he blessed about 200 animals Tuesday night and everyone, even the cats , left with a "doggie bag" of treats. Well, everyone except for the hamsters, snake and goldfish.

Jaclyn Hastings, a graduate of ICS, and now a ninth grader, brought her two-year-old Bijon, Jake.

Although Jake did not commit any sins this year, he did eat the leg on the kitchen table last year.

"He was already blessed for that, so he was forgiven," Hastings said.

Vincent Tiso brought two legged children Michael and Amanda, and four-legged child Samson, a Havernese poodle, to be blessed.

"He's a good dog and an important part of our family," Tiso said. "He grounds the kids and helps them learn about taking care of a pet and teaches them to be responsible."

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