Francisco Bernardone, better known as St. Francis of Assisi, made his mark in Italy as a friend to the poor and downtrodden, and a lover of all of nature. In honor of St. Francis, for his feast day Oct. 4, many people take part in traditions and ceremonies that celebrate the patron saint of animals and one of the best-known Christian figures of all time.

Francis was born in the 12th century in Italy to a wealthy family. After he believed he heard a message from God, he took vows of poverty and ventured out to live in nature, away from any creature comforts. Francis became known throughout Italy -- and in the eight centuries since, throughout the world -- for his kindness to people of all walks of life. He is now also the patron saint of Italy.

Francis in the early 13th century founded the Franciscan Order, which preached and embodied the monastic practices he had built his life around.


Pope Francis, the current leader of the Roman Catholic Church, chose as his namesake Francis of Assisi. “How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor,” he told media representatives after he became pope in 2013. The pontiff has sought to emulate the saint's modest ways by living more simply than many of his predecessors and expressing the need to rid oneself of luxuries.

Masses celebrated on St. Francis' feast day often include such a message of modesty or a call to unite with the poor as he did.

One tradition often observed on feast day is the blessing of the animals. Since St. Francis is the patron saint of animals, in towns throughout the United States, parishioners can bring their pets -- dogs, cats, even bunnies -- to be blessed by the priest or deacon of their church. "We bless our parents and ourselves," said Luke Campbell, a 13 year-old who took part in the ceremony in Kentucky Saturday, as reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Why don't we bless our dog? It's part of our family," he said.