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We Attended Mass at Paris's Animal Church

Every year, on the first Sunday of November, the monseigneur of Sainte Rita in Paris organizes a Mass exclusively for animals.

This post originally appeared on VICE France

Monseigneur Dominique Philippe has been officiating at the church of Sainte Rita in Paris's 15th arrondissement for almost 25 years. Every year, on the first Sunday of November, he organizes a Mass exclusively for animals. During this Mass, residents are asked to bring their pets to church so that they may be blessed.

Unfortunately, Sainte Rita is doomed to be demolished if its faithful visitors can't manage to come up with 4 million euros soon. The arrondissement wants to erect 18 apartment buildings in its place, but Monseigneur Dominique Philippe is willing to do everything he can to keep this from happening.


Last November I attended Mass at Sainte Rita, where in addition to classic pets (like cats and dogs and parrots), I was also able to stroke camels, goats, and llamas in pursuit of the divine blessing. Then I had a chat with Monseigneur Dominique Philippe.

VICE: How long have you been an archbishop?
Monseigneur Dominique Philippe: Since 1988, if I remember well. I was a monk in an abbey in Normandy, then deacon, bishop, and finally archbishop. I've been in Paris since 1973 and in this church for 24 years.

How come you decided to devote one Mass per month to animals?
I love animals. I had a poodle at the time, who wandered all day inside the church. A lot of people came to attend Mass and tied their dogs to the railings. One day, I told them that they could come in with their animals. Pretty quickly, Sainte Rita became known around Paris for allowing dogs in during Mass.

I assume it annoyed some of your superiors.
W e are nine priests in Sainte Rita's and only two of us wanted to do it. They worried that the animals would get the church dirty and that the other priests would make fun of us.

If you only follow what we call the Roman Catholic Church, you never do anything. They think that sin is everywhere. Two months later, I stood up and announced: "We will be celebrating a Mass dedicated to animals and I take full responsibility."

You believe that animals have a soul, right?
Yeah, I believe in that. That being said, I'm not annoyed with the people who don't believe that. I found some publications of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet dating back to the 17th century in which he already spoke of the soul of animals; so I'm not the only one to believe in that.


And there is a Garden of Eden just for animals?
Of course, yes. A special Heaven.

Do you think they can be possessed by evil too?
I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. But indeed, there are animals that are as bad as humans. You know, several years ago, a TV channel asked me to go to a pet cemetery in Asnières, near Paris. I was wandering around when a young guy arrived with his pit bulls. One of the dogs came closer to me, barking, his owner was freaking out, but the animal sat down by my side and didn't move.

Even in the neighborhood, during the summer, when the doors of the church are open, a lot of dogs come in, go for a walk inside and leave. There is something happening between me and them.

Do you think that some animals are "better" than others?
No, not at all. I have a lot of birds and they know when I'm going to feed them. When I'm not there, they are sad. They are very intelligent animals.

Do you live with a lot of animals?
A bunch. I have several ponies, two llamas, some goats, hens, geese, ducks, budgerigars, canaries, doves, turtledoves… I'm lucky to live in the countryside.

How is this practice perceived by the other churches?
At the beginning, it was perceived very badly. When things are not their idea, it's necessarily bad. The supervisor of the episcopate accused me of looking for profit, while I don't earn anything. I remember a cleric in Strasbourg who wanted to do it, but he realized that he was allergic to fur. Some other churches have tried it, but it never lasts.

Do you think this practice will stay isolated?
Yeah. I was the first one to do it in France. I know someone who does the same thing in Spain, with Anthony the Great and his pig, but in France, you are considered a weirdo the moment you stray off the path.

It's true, your approach is very modern.
Yeah, I think this is the only way of making people come back to Church. The Church has changed, but in the wrong way. They get it all wrong. The fact that clerics can wear a suit now doesn't mean they are more modern. Three days ago, I went to a funeral, in an important Parish, and the cleric was very dirty. I told him he should polish his shoes and wash his shirt before officiating.

Thank you, Monseigneur.