Pets, owners flock to Madrid church for blessing of animals

MADRID, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Dogs, cats and birds were blessed at a church in Madrid on Thursday on the feast day of St. Anthony, the patron saint of animals, with many of the owners making an annual pilgrimage for their pets.

St Anthony the Abbot's church priest Angel Garcia expected up to 15,000 pets to be brought in for this year's ceremony.

"St. Anthony cared a great deal about dogs and abandoned animals, healing and feeding them. That's where the tradition comes from," said the priest, who blesses each animal.

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Blessing of animals in Madrid, Spain
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Blessing of animals in Madrid, Spain
A priest anoints a dog at the l'Escola Pia church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A woman carries her pet be to blessed as a poor woman waits a coin seated outside of the San Nicolas church during the feast of St. Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A priest anoints a dog at the San Anton church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A man and his dog react as its is blessed by a priest as pet owners bring their animals to be blessed every year on the day of Spain's patron saint of animals, Saint Anthony, outside San Anton Church in Madrid, Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
A hedgehog is blessed by a priest at the l'Escola Pia church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A woman and her cat react as its is blessed by a priest as pet owners bring their animals to be blessed every year on the day of Spain's patron saint of animals, Saint Anthony, outside San Anton Church in Madrid, Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Dogs Tania and Sofia rest in their basket before being blessed by a priest as pet owners bring their animals to be blessed every year on the day of Spain's patron saint of animals, Saint Anthony, outside San Anton Church in Madrid, Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
A dog licks her owner after being blessed by a priest as pet owners bring their animals to be blessed every year on the day of Spain's patron saint of animals, Saint Anthony, outside San Anton Church in Madrid, Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
A woman and her cat listen to a mass at San Anton Church after being blessed by a priest as pet owners bring their animals to be blessed every year on the day of Spain's patron saint of animals, Saint Anthony, in Madrid, Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
A priest anoints a cat at the San Anton church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A priest blesses people with their pets outside of the San Nicolas church during the feast of St. Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A priest blesses people and their pets outside of the San Nicolas church during the feast of St. Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A priest blesses people and their pets outside of the San Nicolas church during the feast of St. Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A priest blesses people with their pets outside of the San Nicolas church during the feast of St. Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
People wait with their pets outside of the San Nicolas church during the feast of St. Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A woman kisses her pet be to blessed outside of the San Nicolas church during the feast of St. Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A woman holds a cat at the San Anton church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A priest anoints a dog at the San Anton church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A priest anoints a dog at the San Anton church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A priest anoints a dogs at the San Anton church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A priest anoints a cat at the l'Escola Pia church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A priest anoints a dog at the San Anton church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A man walks with his six dogs to be blessed, during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A priest anoints a dog at the l'Escola Pia church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A woman holds her dog as she waits to bless it, during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A man walks with his six dogs to be blessed, during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A priest anoints a dog at the l'Escola Pia church during the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of animals, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their animals to churches to be blessed. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
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"We come here every year since I have her and we come together, right Rita?" Madrid resident Maria Diaz said to her dog as she was hugging it. "St. Anthony is going to bless you. Do not tremble!"

Diana Castillo, another dog owner, said she was keeping up a family tradition, started by her grandparents who would bring their pets to the ceremony, first celebrated 35 years ago.

"We are from Madrid for several generations and St. Anthony has always been a very important church for our family ... I come here since we adopted her seven years ago and we come every year."

(Reporting by Sabela Ojea Guix, editing by Andrei Khalip)

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