When I See a Pelican

By Charla Misse

When I see a pelican, my heart is warmed. I am reminded of my home, of being on the water with my father, of fishing with my husband. … I feel a connection as if the bird knows me.  Whether soaring or perching, it seems dignified and special to me.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many people from Louisiana have a feeling like this when they see a pelican, too.

Very interesting to me, being brought up in the Catholic culture of Louisiana, I didn’t know about the Christian symbolism of the pelican that has been recognized for at least 200 years.

Our pastor at St. Dominic Church in New Orleans, Father John Restrepo, came over for dinner one night and showed us his artwork rendering a pelican feeding its babies with blood from her breast. He explained to us the symbolism and happily, yet humbly, shared with us that his artwork would be used to adorn a banner on the altar near the tabernacle at church.

The mother pelican cares for her young in the nest. Daily, she travels the nearby area to find food for her babies and returns to the nest to feed them. When the swamp or marsh is dried up or polluted, however, the chicks will quickly starve and die without food. The mother pelican, intensely concerned for her young, pierces her own breast with her sharp beak in order to nourish her children with her own blood. In doing so, she dies so that they might live.

Thus, the pelican is a symbol of Christ, who sacrificed himself so that we, the children who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, might live.

Just a few weeks after Fr. John’s visit, my family took a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. In the main church, which resembles the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, we were elated to again see the image of a pelican with her babies on the altar! I don’t recall ever having noticed a pelican on the altar before.

Now, when I see a pelican, my heart is warmed. I am reminded of my spiritual home, of the ultimate sacrifice that was made for me out of deep love, of the eternal life that I might have only through Christ.

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