The traditional blessing of the animals for the feast day of S. Anthony Abbot (17 Jan) will take place on Sun 18 Jan at the church of S. Eusebio all'Esquilino (Piazza Vittorio corner Via Napoleone III) in Rome. The celebration began hundreds of years ago when people took their work animals to be blessed. Nowadays most people take household pets, but many military divisions still take their four-legged colleagues, such as the horses of the Corazzieri and the drug squad's sniffer dogs. The festival attracts up to 5,000 people every year; smaller animals allowed into the church for mass, while larger ones remain outside in the square.

On Sun afternoon Rome's largest cat sanctuaries will open their doors to the public 14.00-19.00, allowing visitors to meet felines they may want to adopt. Visitors are invited to bring a small donation, such as a tin of cat food. The sanctuaries are in Largo di Torre Argentina, at the Pyramid in Testaccio, and in the Casetta del Laurentino near EUR. For information contact the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, tel. 066872133.

On Sat 17 Jan there will be a torch-lit vigil for abandoned and maltreated animals in Piazza Campo de' Fiori. Music and speeches start at 15.00 and at sunset (ca. 17.00) torches will be lit. For information contact the Associazione Romana Cura Animali e Ambiente (ARCA), tel. 065756085, or the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary.

There will also be animal-related guided tours throughout the weekend, organised by the cultural association Ambiente Archeovita. The walks will explore such themes as the transformation of the Roman Forum into pastureland during the middle ages, and the animals killed in gladiator games at the Colosseum. For a full schedule contact the association on tel. 064466425, or see www.masterdog.it/news/benedizione_animali.htm.

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