16 August 2008

'San Roque has his dog but I have my cat'.

Today, 16 August, is a busy day for many priests in the Philippines, as it is the feast of San Roque or St Roch (Latin: Rochus; Catalan: Roc; Italian: Rocco; French: Roch; Spanish and Portuguese: Roque; German: Rochus). He was reputedly born around 1295 in Montpellier, France and died there, according to tradition, on 16 August 1327. Here in the Philippines he’s usually known by his Spanish name, San Roque, though liturgical books in English here call him ‘St Rock’. But nobody actually calls him that. He's also described in the Missal here as 'Healer'. Many parishes and communities have him as their patron.

You can read more about him here and here .

San Roque is kept quite busy in heaven as he’s the patron saint of dogs and those who love them and also of bachelors, surgeons, tile makers, falsely accused people, invalids and diseased cattle. He’s also invoked against epidemics, knee and skin problems, the plague and pestilence.

Images of San Roque usually show him with a wound above his knee, from the plague, and a dog carrying bread in its mouth. The legend is that when the saint was very ill from the plague in a cave or in a forest, the dog used to bring him bread every day. The owner happened to live in a nearby castle and followed the dog one day. When he found Roque he brought him home and nursed him back to health.

In the Philippines there is always a novena before the feast of the parish or community patron. Sometimes there’s a novena of Masses. On one occasion when I celebrated one of these Masses during the novena for today's saint I was quietly amused by the fact that a black and white cat sat quietly at the altar all through the liturgy. Before giving the final blessing I couldn’t resist saying ‘San Roque has his dog but I have my cat!’

It’s not at all uncommon to see dogs or cats in church here and they rarely cause any disturbance. In one parish where I worked a family dog attended Mass quietly every day with the couple who owned it.

San Roque is unknown in Ireland. If my late Dad had known about him I'm sure he would have had a special devotion to him as he loved animals and was known to his workmates on building/construction sites as 'St Francis', as he fed stray dogs and cats and even robins.

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