When Rev. Jacqueline Soltys made the rounds at the Virginia Zoo on Saturday morning to bless animals there, she started with a Red panda, an Emu and an American bald eagle.
“We thank you for this beautiful, noble bird — the bald eagle — a symbol of our country’s freedom and ability to fly high,” she stated at the eagle website, asking that God defend endangered species.
“We are so grateful for this Eagle here in Norfolk — that we can see a reminder of the wonderful birds that fly in the skies, how regal they are and how we as human beings want to be free like birds. We give thanks and ask for a hearty blessing on this eagle and all eagles.”
But it wasn’t simply an eagle.
At the request of an 8-year-old woman, Soltys — the pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Norfolk — then blessed a lowly squirrel that occurred to be darting round at the zoo’s pathways.
The reverend blessed the jumpy rodent from about 40 ft away, in order no to scare it away.
“Thank you for their fuzzy tails we have watching them,” Soltys stated. “For the ways they plant trees. We give thanks for all the amazing things they can do, the way they climb and jump, like this squirrel and all squirrels.”
And Soltys even blessed some homo sapiens as they gathered in the zoo’s historic monkey cage — on the foundation that we’re animals, too.
“We give thanks that we too are animals, living creates made by your loving hand,” she stated. “We give thanks for all the things that we learn and all the ways we learn more and more how better to take care of ourselves and one another and all the living creatures on this planet.”
“Teach us that we may learn … and always try to do better and be better and love better.”
Soltys was one in every of six native spiritual leaders who gathered at the zoo to give blessings to creatures giant and small as a part of World Animal Day.
That’s celebrated each Oct. 4, coinciding with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
Lots of space church buildings are doling out blessing on animals — from canine and cats to lizards and hamsters — principally at particular church companies this week and subsequent.
But this occasion was completely different as a result of it was for dozens of captive critters and beasts residing at the Virginia Zoo.
It all started when Soltys requested Lynn Cobb, the chairman of the zoo’s board, whether or not a zoo “ambassador” might come to her church for the annual blessing.
But when Cobb talked to the zoo’s government director, Greg Bockheim, he had one other concept.
“‘You know, it would be wonderful if they could come here, and bless our animals,’” Cobb stated Bockheim informed her. “Do you think we could get some other religious leaders in the area interested?”
Soltys favored the concept, and coordinated to make it occur.
She obtained David Kays, the pastor of the Virginia Beach Christian Church, to come. So, too, did Rev. Fran Cooper, lead pastor at Larchmont United Methodist Church in Norfolk; Henry Hornung of the Muslim Community of Tidewater in Norfolk; Rev. Connie Jones of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk; and Diane Garrison from the Mattaponi Tribe.
Before the group unfold out to dole out blessings to the zoo’s resident animals, Soltys gathered the group of attendees to clarify what a “blessing” really is.
First, she stated, “you have to stop and pay attention” and “really look closely at the goodness of that thing that you are appreciating and seeing.”
Then, Soltys stated, you “allow yourself to be emotionally connected to it,” after which “offer your love to it.”
“Then you invite God or the creator or however you understand it, to also notice the goodness in it, and strengthen it and bless it,” she stated. “And you give thanks for the joy that it brings you.”
Soltys started by holding her palm to the Red panda as she prayed — having some youngsters doing the similar — after which it was on to the Emus, the eagle, the squirrel and all the relaxation.
“Holy and gracious God, creator of all birds, including Emus,” the reverend stated, noticing the fowl’s thick feathers which are “like a carpet.”
“We give thanks for these beautiful Emus, for their life here the zoo, for their beauty and wonder … and how interesting they are to look at. And we ask that you give them joy and blessing. Amen.”
Ellie Davenport, 8, stated she favored listening to the animals getting blessed. “It makes me feel really happy for the animals,” she stated. “So they can live a very long life and a happy life.”
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, [email protected]