LA PAZ – Running around freely at the Franciscan monastery in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba is a schnauzer pooch called Fray Carmelo, dressed just like the friars he accompanies in their daily activities, except at prayers in the chapel.
Fray Carmelo arrived at the monastery four months ago when a family from the nearby town of Quillacollo donated it to the Polish friar Kasper Kapron, an animal-lover and theology professor at the Bolivian Catholic University.
“We Franciscans love protecting animals and preserving nature, which is why we take care of Fray Carmelo,” Kapron, who came to Bolivia six years ago from his native Poland, told EFE.
The dog was baptized Carmelo in honor of a Franciscan parish priest, also in Cochabamba, who fought for justice and peace, and who loved nature like all the friars of that order.
The brothers of the monastery also call their pup “Fray Bigoton,” because of the odd gray and white whiskers on his snout that look like a moustache.
The little friar was only a month old when it arrived at the monastery and so naturally feels like one of the brothers, particularly since they dressed him in a little Franciscan habit.
Late last February, Kapron shared on Facebook a series of photos of the pup posing in its monastery garb together with a group of friars in the monastery patio.
The “Fray Carmelo” album has been shared more than 2,200 times on that social network, while other Bolivian media took notice and wasted no time in spreading the news.
All Franciscan monasteries are allowed to have a pet, but Fray Carmelo is the only one that wears the cassock, according to the dog’s owner.
This is a way to reflect the love that St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, had for all animals, which he treated as his friends, just as the Cochabamba brothers treat Fray Carmelo.
It was specifically because of the immense love St. Francis had for animals that in 1929 the World Animal Protection organization declared October 4 to be World Animals Day, to coincide with the feast day of the saint of Assisi.
But while some people are fascinated with “Fray Bigoton” and with the way the Franciscans treat the pooch with such care and affection, others criticize the brothers for dressing the dog in a religious habit, considering it a lack of respect.
“We beg pardon if anyone feels offended,” another Franciscan who takes care of the dog, Jorge Fernandez, told EFE.
But, he said, the fact that Fray Carmelo wears the habit sends a symbolic message that seeks to inspire respect for animals and for life itself.