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Walter Reed Bethesda Holds a ‘Blessing of the Animals’ service


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

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 counseling.

The Pastoral Care chapel and offices are located in Building 8 and the main number is 301-295-1510.​