Q&A WITH AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF AMAZING FRIENDSHIPS BETWEEN ANIMALS AND SAINTS

What is Amazing Friendships Between Animals and Saints all about?

Greg Kennedy, SJ: If I had to use two words to describe the content and purpose of the book, they would be “ecological conversion,” a term first used by St. John Paul II during his pontificate and deeply embraced today by Pope Francis. Through re-telling traditional stories of saints and their kindness to animals, our hope is to awaken in our readers an active and intelligent love for God’s good creation. It turns out that these reciprocal relationships of care between holy people and animals can teach us a great deal about how to relate to the rest of creation faithfully and justly. These old stories are charming and their lessons are sorely needed today.

Who is the intended audience?

Greg Kennedy, SJ: The book looks like it belongs to children, and so it does, as long as we understand children the way Jesus did. He said all people, regardless of years, must become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Similarly, the book was written for all ages. The stories can capture any imagination, while the accompanying biographical and ecological content appeal to intellects that can make connections with our current circumstances, troubled as they are by climate change, mass extinctions and migrations. Meanwhile, the art touches hearts through readers’ eyes. Of course, saints have a particularly Catholic relevance, but Amazing Friendships was created with the widest possible audience in mind. Like Pope Francis’ superb ecological encyclical, Laudato si, the book attempts to speak to all earthlings, that is, every child of God who relies on the health of Mother Earth to live well.

What inspired this book?

Greg Kennedy, SJ: The tenderness that marks the interchange between so many saints and animals. Most of us know of the joy and compassion that spilled out of St. Francis onto other species. But saintliness itself generates a deep love, respect and reverence for God’s non-human children. St. Francis felt a real kinship with the natural world, as do so many saints and mystics. This is precisely the sense of belonging that we moderns need, and unconsciously desire, in order to escape the painful alienation from nature that we experience daily. We are all called to be saints, and by consequence, called to love the creatures to which we are inextricably connected.

Kerry Lyn Wilson: The elaborate story borders were inspired by medieval woodcuts and illuminated manuscripts with circular vine patters in their borders. This repeating circular idea was then applied to the natural landscapes surrounding Greg’s stories.

What did you enjoy most when working on this book?

Kerry Lyn Wilson: I really enjoyed the process of letting the drawings evolve prayerfully and organically. The images would creep across the page – almost like they had a life of their own! I would often be surprised at the end of a day of drawing and marvel at how God had guided the process.

St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio

What were your greatest challenges?

Kerry Lyn Wilson: My greatest challenge was having enough stamina to finish all the elaborate borders over the two years that it took. Once I had completed the first one, to be consistent, I needed to maintain the same complexity and caliber of drawing throughout, and that required a lot of research, planning and drawing time!

Any words to your readers?

Kerry Lyn Wilson: This is more than just a story book and I really hope that you will be able to dig deeply into it. The online resources that include introductory contemplative activities for kids are a great place to start to make this more than just a quick read. It’s an experience for the whole family!

Greg Kennedy, SJ: Make friends with as many creatures as you can. Dogs, cats and goldfish are great, but there is a whole world of other species to get to know and befriend. The more friends we have, the more joyful our lives become.

Greg Kennedy, SJ is a Jesuit priest working in spirituality and ecology at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, ON. His other books include Reupholstered Psalms: Ancient Songs Sung New.

Kerry Lyn Wilson lives in Guelph, ON, and is a mother, artist, spiritual director and music teacher who treasures her whimsical collection of picture books. Drawn as a spiritual practice, this is her first book. For more info, visit kerryartist.com

Amazing Friendships Between Animals and Saints can be found and purchased here.

On Thursday, March 4 at 4pm, Novalis is hosting a webinar with Greg and Kerry based on this book. More info can be found here.

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