A moving St Francis Day and Remembrance Ceremony at Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary near McGregor

Donkeys with the Eseltjiesrus Country Kitchen in the background

On Sunday, 3 October 2010, we joined our good friends V and L on a trip out to the pretty village of McGregor to attend a moving and heartwarming St Francis Day ceremony at Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary.

We had visited the sanctuary for the first time in July this year, during a long and unforgettable birthday weekend spent in the Riviersonderend Mountains between McGregor and Greyton. If you visit the sanctuary on a Saturday or Sunday, there is usually a guide available to accompany you into the paddock with the donkeys, to teach you about them, and to tell you the life stories of particular animals.

We had been completely smitten by the donkeys – and by one dashingly handsome furry-eared fella called, er…, Donkey. Yes, like in the movie Shrek, and yes, he looks very much like him, just even MORE gorgeous! But don’t just take my word for it, look here:

And our adorable and very handsome Donkey!

Don’t you just love his spiky hairdo? And those soft, fluffy ears? Aah, sigh… As you may imagine, we promptly decided to adopt him for a year, and duly received our official Donkey Adoption Certificate.

We were very keen to see Donkey again, so, when we received an invitation to attend the annual animal blessing ceremony at Eseltjiesrus on Sunday the 3rd of October, which is the day before St Francis Day, in honour of the patron saint of animals, St Francis of Assisi, we immediately made plans to drive out.

And what a beautiful, heart-warming, soul-feeding ceremony it was. Rows of chairs had been set up underneath some large old trees on the lawns next to the Eseltjiesrus Country Kitchen, which is run by Debbie and Jimmy. As 11h00 approached, more and more people arrived to take their seats, some of them accompanied by dogs on leads.

We sit in the shade of beautiful old trees

Patricia and Catherine played a couple of peaceful recorder pieces, which really set the mood for the service. The birds were clearly intrigued by all this activity, and eagerly contributed their own songs in the background, occasionally swooping by above our heads, which I thought was quite fitting!

After all the guests had been welcomed by Johan, who is one of the founders of Eseltjiesrus, one person after another contributed to the program in their own way. There was an amazing sense of community and caring, with everyone sharing their love and passion for the sanctuary and for the donkeys, as well as for animals and the environment in general.

After Bridget had read out a touching prayer, Tony told us about World Animal Day, as it is being celebrated all around the world. Mike gave a reading on the topic ‘You can’t buy love’, and then all of us sang “All Things Bright And Beautiful”, accompanied by Patricia and Catherine on guitar.

Accompanied by Patricia and Catherine, we sing 'All things bright and beautiful'

“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.”

This was followed by an Afrikaans prayer read out by Suenel, and Rodney with his lovely clear voice singing “There’s a place for us…” Then it was time for Brother Richard to conduct the actual blessing of the animals; with a cheerful smile, he walked all around the audience and down to the donkey paddock, flicking holy water at everyone, and startling a dog or two!

Afterwards, Wendy spoke about the five freedoms for animals.

Inspiration from St Francis of Assisi

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

To round off the ceremony, Patricia and Catherine sang the inspirational Prayer of St Francis, their voices harmonising perfectly with each other, as we chimed in with the refrain.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
And where there is doubt, true faith in you.

Refrain:
Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there’s sadness ever joy.

Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.

At the end, we were invited to remember and honour our departed friends, relatives and animals by going on a short meditative walk around the vineyards, where thought-provoking quotations were mounted at intervals along the path.

By the time we returned to the restaurant, we were feeling rather hungry, so we had a delicious and filling lunch of coq-au-vin (my three compatriots) and chicken mayo sandwiches (yes, the latter would be mine!).

The grey donkey on the right is Ida - very sweet-tempered and loving

Afterwards, L and I walked around the donkey paddock for a while, under the guidance of Robyn, who is one of the hard-working and knowledgeable volunteers at the sanctuary. She patiently fielded all our questions and told us the life-stories of many of the donkeys, explaining which of them we could approach or touch, and which were still a little shy of strangers.

Resting in the shade of the large tree

Considering the sometimes horrific lives these gentle creatures have had, I was in awe of how peaceful and serene they were, and how trusting. Just being in their presence had a healing effect, slowing down my breathing and my heart rate, bringing me into the moment, into the body, just Be-ing, right here, right now. It was quite an extraordinary experience.

I can’t wait to go back.

10 thoughts on “A moving St Francis Day and Remembrance Ceremony at Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary near McGregor

  1. This was just the right post for a day! I have sent this post to several others in my circle of friends. You have captured compassion and love…WOW! Send a time to skype if you can: Daniel and Dana and I want to catch up!

  2. Now, where else can you read about adopting a donkey named Donkey? There is so much warmth and heart in your postings. I was watching the embedded slide show and now I’m hungry! I need to go find some breakfast somewhere…

    Beautiful photos as usual. And I loved the Prayer of St. Francis refrain. Reading this post just makes one feel good. And I especially liked the Five Freedoms For Animals list. Things we should think about always. For animals and people. For peaceful co-existence.

  3. What a heart warming post Reggie. By adding your special touches, you always do more than just relate a series of events.

    I had never heard of the 5 freedoms of animals before. Sounds like they would be ideals for people too. St Francis’ prayer is one that I have loved since I was a child. It is simple and yet so profound.

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