St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, was a Roman Catholic saint who took the gospel literally by following all Jesus said and did. Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”[i]
Pope John Paul II said, “St. Francis invited all creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honor and praise to the Lord.” Pope John Paul II added, “[He] is an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation….” [ii]
It is because of St. Francis’ deep respect for all living things that the Catholic Church has for centuries, observed the Feast of St. Francis by hosting a Blessing of the Animals. In some regions of the world, people and their animals walk for miles in a ceremonious parade to a Catholic Church to receive a blessing by a priest, pastor, or bishop. On October 7th, Saipan joined the world in this tradition by hosting its first Blessing of the Animals.
But, Catholicism is not the only religion to recognize animals as God’s creatures that are worthy of respect and admiration. Most religions recognize the unique and special relationship that exists between mankind, nature, and the living world. And, most great spiritual leaders have encouraged compassion towards animals through teachings and actions.
For example, in Judaism, it is forbidden to cause an animal to suffer. Torah law teaches that man is to avoid causing an unnecessary pain to animals. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32a-b) derives this basic concept from Exodus 23:5, "If you see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its load, you might want to refrain from helping him, but you must make every effort to help him." This teaching encourages people not only to help their neighbor, but it also creates an obligation to help the animal.[iii]
Furthermore, the Torah teaches that a man shall not feed himself before he feeds his animals. This law is derived from the verse, "I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied" (Deuteronomy 11:15). This teaching places the feeding of the cattle before our own eating.[iv]
Islam also requires its followers to respect animals. An eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has relayed the following teaching to Muslims:
Islam preceded Animal Care Societies by thirteen hundred years and made kindness to animals a part of the faith and cruelty to them a sufficient reason for a person to be thrown into Hell-fire.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, related to his Companions the story of a man who found a dog panting out of thirst. The man went down into a well, filled his shoes with water and offered it to the dog to quench its thirsty. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Then Allah was grateful to him and forgave him his sins.” The Companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Is there a reward for us with relation to animals?” He replied “There is a reward with (relation to) every living creature.”[v]
Hinduism is another religion that respects nature and animals. According to the various schools of Hinduism spirituality, there is no distinction between human beings and other life forms. All life, including plants and animals, are manifestations of God as limited beings and all living things possess souls.[vi] Perhaps it is this belief that inspired India’s great and impressionable spiritual leader Mahatma Ghandi to say, “"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
Buddhists also believe that animals should be treated with care and respect. More specifically, Buddhists believe that animals are sentient beings that should not be killed for food, sport, clothing, or experimentation.
The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, recently criticized companies that "remain indifferent" to the rights of animals used for laboratory research and experimentation. "Taking care of animals is essential to developing more happiness in human beings," he said in an Associated Press story.[vii]
Mormons also believe that animals should be treated compassionately. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and George Cannon, the founder of the LDS church and two of it’s most influential leaders, suggested abstaining from meat unless it is necessary for survival and condemn animal cruelty.[viii]
Joseph Smith said, “Men must become harmless before the brute of creation and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together....” (TPJS; p1)
While the above list of religions is far from exhaustive, it does reveal a common recognition that animals, as living creatures, should be treated compassionately.
[v] http://www.islamonline.net and http://www.islamicconcern.com.