The church in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, dedicated to St Rita, patron saint of hopeless causes, is famous for holding a mass once a month for the blessing of animals. It is now being forced to shut after its owner, the Swiss Catholic community, sold the building.
Archbishop Dominique Philippe of the Gallican Church, a breakaway Catholic grouping, has welcomed cats, dogs, fish, horses and even circus animals to his Sunday services for the past thirty years. 'Around six hundred' animals had attended in the past year, he estimated.
“We’ve had zebras here, and last year we even had a little boar,” the Archbishop said to daily paper Le Parisien.
The church is known for taking a more liberal attitude than the Roman Catholic Church on a range of issues. Among other things it marries divorcées and has said it could marry same-sex couples in the future. The church also attracted attention for holding a mass for the late pop star Michael Jackson.
All this is now threatened by the sale of the building, which the owners priced at €3.3 million - an amount far beyond the means of the small congregation.
“I don’t think our church will be demolished, it will just become something else... But our only hope is that someone important realises how worrying this is.”
But the church’s owners already have plans to knock down the building and construct an apartment block on the site.
The Archbishop says he is now looking for another site, in Paris or its suburbs, where he can continue to hold his animal services.