While the wide boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square can seem like a zoo on general audience Wednesdays, there’s no mistake — it definitely becomes a petting zoo every January 17 — the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, patron saint of animals and farmers.
Italian farmers and ranchers bring their horses, donkeys, cows,
steer, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits and hens, and local residents come
with their dogs, cats and bunnies for the annual blessing.
Italian farmers and pet owners have a special devotion to St. Anthony
as their patron saint, which is why his feast day marks the celebration
and not, like in other countries, the feast of that other famous patron
saint of animals: St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4.
Bleats, barks and honks accompanied the “Our Father” as Cardinal
Angelo Comastri blessed farm animals and pets gathered outside St.
Italian police mounted on horseback paraded up the wide boulevard
leading to the square and two police dogs, with their agents, circled
and sniffed pedestrians enthusiastically — unaware they were off-duty to
get a blessing.