By Bernard S. Little
In observance of Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4),
Walter Reed Bethesda held a “Blessing of the Animals” service Oct. 2 at the
flagpole in front of the iconic Tower at the medical center.
“This is our 12th year [in conducting the service],” said
Army Lt. Col. Jason Silvernail, assistant chief of staff at Walter Reed
National Military Medical Center. He added the animal visitation and canine
support and therapy programs at WRNMMC are not found at many other health-care
facilities and they have proven beneficial in enhancing patient and staff
morale, care, resiliency and general overall well-being.
Saint Francis of Assisi, the Italian Catholic friar, deacon
and preacher who became the patron saint of animals and ecology, is quoted as
once saying, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the
shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with
their fellow man.”
Franciscan Brother David Schlatter, of the Department of
Pastoral Care at WRNMMC, said what makes the canines special at WRNMMC is “the
service they give without bias, without prejudice and unconditionally. They
touch places in the human soul that has somehow eluded our sciences, our
medicine, and even our relations.” He added their impact is beyond physical
healing and extend into the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of
rehabilitation as well. “They are as much a part of the mission of this medical
center as the doctors, nurses, volunteers, chaplains [and others],” he added.
Schlatter said animals are blessed because God ask people to
do so, and “they bless us. We’re just returning the favor.”
He added animals also teach people teamwork. “None of us are
in this alone; we belong in the pack.”
“They teach us that there’s a hierarchy,” Schlatter
continued. “We learn how to know where each of us fits in the order of things.”
In addition, Schlatter said animals teach people
responsibility for one another – “mutual regard for one another.”
He said animals also teach people the importance of
training, “supporting good results and rewarding good behavior.”
“They teach us the importance of clarity in giving and
receiving orders…keep it simple, keep it direct,” he said.
Schlatter concluded the service individually blessing each
animal in attendance.
The WRNMMC Department of Pastoral Care provides a number of
religious services, studies and meditations. In addition, chaplains provide
patient visitations to offer religious sacraments, ordinates and rites, as well
as emotional and spiritual care. Chaplains also provide confidential pastoral