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Blessing and Biodiversity

by Oct 2, 2021Care for Creation

Each year Catholics celebrate the Blessing of the Animals as part of the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi observance. St. Francis, the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology, loved all animals and all of nature, recognizing each animal as an equally miraculous work of the Creator. As our attention is most often turned to our furry and feathered household companions, we can also celebrate – and pledge to protect – the overwhelming diversity of animal life just outside our doors and neighborhoods, and worldwide. This is the wild that St. Francis knew and treasured.

“All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”
Saint Francis of Assisi

The Diversity of Life, Biodiversity, Threatened: A Growing Crisis

Just this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared 23 additional species extinct in the wild, including the “Lord God bird,” the ivory-billed woodpecker. Additionally, over 700 U.S. animal species are considered threatened or endangered, including east-southeast natives like the endangered Florida panther, Atlantic-coast piping plover, and dusky gopher frog. These animals join the over 1,400 known species in decline, worldwide. Every taxon of animal life is “in trouble,” according to the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

This decline in the diversity of life, a decline in biodiversity, is a global pattern emerging in a now-recognized extinction crisis. Experts estimate that we are losing individual species at a rate at least 1,000 times higher than the natural rate; this translates to a loss of tens of thousands of species per year. This loss is widely attributed to direct persecution and over-harvest, habitat loss and climate change. While the iconic ivory-billed woodpecker may no longer grace our remaining southern forests, there’s still hope for other threatened and endangered species. Pope Francis has called for urgent preservation efforts, and has continually lamented the loss of Creation occurring on our watch:

“We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior… Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence … We have no such right.”
Pope Francis

Closer to Home: the Red Wolf: A Critically Endangered Eastern Native

The familiar story of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio hints at an ancient tension between humans and the wolf, a tension echoed today, threatening the very existence of wolves in the U.S. Once common throughout the U.S., wolves are vital to the normal functioning of ecosystems (allowing other species to thrive, by keeping others in check). Unfortunately wolves are now often seen as an unacceptable threat to animal farming and recreational hunting. More than 25 years after a small group of gray wolves was relocated to Yellowstone from Canada, in an effort to restore an ecosystem degraded by the eradication of the native wolf population, wolves continue to be devalued; they are continually persecuted across the U.S. amidst inconsistent and controversial conservation efforts.

The eastern U.S. is home to the red wolf, considered to be the most endangered canid in the world; less than 30 individuals remain in the wild. St. Francis protected and celebrated the wolves, and all “brother and sister creatures.” How can we work to celebrate and preserve our own local species, each vital to local ecosystems in some way, as Pope Francis has called us to do?

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