The following comes from a June 22 report on NBC Bay Area.

During his lifetime, Saint Francis of Assisi was famously devoted to animals. Paintings and statues depict the saint frolicking with birds, dogs and other beasts.

The lore of San Francisco’s namesake seemed an ideal fit for a city where dogs outnumber kids. Inside the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi in San Francisco’s North Beach, tributes to the saint’s life abound, especially in its annual blessing of the animals.

On a recent weekend, the shrine’s rector Father Gregory Coiro blessed some 500 pets during the two-day stretch.

“Mostly dogs,” said Coiro, wearing a brown robe and tangled beard. “But there were a few cats and a few angora rabbits.”

The shrine has long opened its doors to living pets in the spirit of Saint Francis. But now, it’s also opening them to the dead. In a newly discovered grotto beneath the shrine’s front steps, Coiro has envisioned the building of a columbarium to house the ashes of the dearly departed of the pet world.

“The people who bring their pets here can be Catholic or they can be non-Catholic,” said Coiro. “Cause afterall, the animals have no religion.”

Currently the concrete pillared cave looks like the ruins of a Roman temple.

Though work on the site has not yet begun, the shrine recently released a brochure with depictions of glass-walled partitions where pets’ ashes will be interned.

Visitors will be greeted by a large portrait of Saint Francis himself, and a video monitor will play video loops of pets enshrined in the space. In another corner, a large memorial will pay tribute to police and rescue dogs, like those who searched for survivors and bodies amid the rubble of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11….

To read the entire NBC story, click here.

Father Coiro clarified the Church teaching about animals in last week’s bulletin.

“One thing I wanted to be very careful about is making sure that nothing about the columbarium suggest that animals participate in the Redemption (I have been asked to celebrate Mass for deceased animals and I explain that the Mass is the Sacrifice of Calvary offered in an unbloody manner for the forgiveness of sins. Since animals are incapable of sinning, we cannot offer Mass for them after they die.)”

The same bulletin (June 24-30) announces the end of Father Coiro’s term as rector of St. Francis and asks prayers for his health.