This Wednesday past, 4 October, was the Feast of St Francis. It marked the close of Creationtide, when all Christians join to give thanks for the gifts of God’s creation, and to pledge themselves to care for it better.

St Francis was chosen as Patron Saint of Ecology because of his affection for other creatures. There were the stories of when he tamed a wolf that was terrorising the town of Gubbio, and  of when he preached to a flock of birds. He called fish and pheasants and crickets his brothers and sisters; he made friends with swallows and hares. Such tales were part of a long tradition.

In the north of England we have St Cuthbert, who had friendly otters drying his feet and who protected the birds on his island, Inner Farne; it is a bird sanctuary to this day. One of my favourite stories is of St Macarius, who lived in the Egyptian desert. One day a mother hyena appeared and dragged him by his hem to her cave, inviting him to heal her blind pups. He did what she asked, with a prayer.

These stories saw the saints as imitating Christ, who lived in the desert himself ‘with the wild beasts’ (Mark 1v13). In making peace with other creatures, we play our part in Christ’s mission to reconcile the world to God (2 Corinthians 5v19). Our commitment as Christians to care for the natural world is not an optional extra: it is central to our faith.

Written by Sr Margaret Atkins of Boarbank Hall in Allithwaite.

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