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In the News: Blessings invoked for rare Mexican gray wolves

Albuquerque Journal - October 4, 2016

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SANTA FE – Two wolf hybrids received blessings from four different religious leaders in front of Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis on Tuesday on the traditional feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.

The event was organized by the Southwest Environmental Center, a conservation group that works to protect endangered species and their habitat. Kevin Bixby, the group’s executive director, said the blessing ceremony was intended to call attention to the plight of the Mexican gray wolf.

While federal officials are trying to increase the genetic diversity of the fewer than 100 gray wolves living in the wild by introducing populations into their native habitat in Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, the state Department of Game and Fish has been working against the program, claiming that expanding the wolf population and territory was an interim measure and not a recovery plan.

Many opponents of reintroduction efforts also claim the wolves kill off rancher’s livestock and pose a threat to humans.

The Rev. Rob Yaksich, associate rector at historic cathedral, said he makes a regular pilgrimage to Yellowstone National Park just to see wolves, but hadn’t been able to go in several years. So, “God brought the wolves to me,” he joked. “Thank you, Lord.”

Yakcich, whose family is from northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, and includes uncles and cousins who still raise cattle, said he understands the perspective of ranchers. “It’s a tricky balance,” he said. “So we pray for the guidance to find that keen balance.”

Bixby said reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolves should not be a political issue because it’s a moral issue. “Do we allow one of God’s creatures to go extinct under our watch when it’s within our means to prevent it?” he asked the gathering of several dozen people, many of them tourists who stumbled across the ceremony that took place beneath a statue of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio outside the iconic church.

As the story goes, a marauding wolf was preying on the people of Gubbio in what is now Italy. Francis ventured out to meet the wolf and learned the wolf was terrorizing people for no other reason than it was hungry. Francis negotiated peace, with the people agreeing to feed the wolf in exchange for being left alone.

Rev. Talitha Arnold of the United Church of Santa Fe said the message of coexistence applies today as well. “Our job is to care for all creatures,” she said.

A 4-month-old puppy named Spirit drew most of the attention of the crowd, including many eager to snap photos. Four-year-old Ghost was somewhat skittish and stayed in the wings. The animals were brought in by Colorado Wolf Adventures, a wolf sanctuary in Woodland Park, Colo.

Rev. Carol Calvert, associate pastor with the Church of Antioch at Santa Fe, and Rev. Catherine Volland of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church also gave blessings to the wolves.

This article was published in the Albuquerque Journal

An additional article about the blessing was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican