Amid the turmoil and great losses people have experienced in the past year, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz encouraged his listeners at the lighting of the Tree of Remembrance to “trust that God’s hand is present.”
“Recall that Christ comes into our hearts this day and as he does so, he rekindles and renews the gift of faith and trust in him,” he said before lighting the 16-foot live Nordmann fir tree at Calvary Cemetery on the mild night of Dec. 3.
He was joined at the prayer service by an estimated 400-plus people, some of whom were mourning recent losses of loved ones. Others were there to remember people they lost years before.
Each was remembered on a glass ornament provided by Catholic Cemeteries, personalized by those who attended and hung on the tree. (The free ornaments will be available throughout the Advent and Christmas season.)
Tina Meyer and her husband, Andrew, members of St. Brigid Church, remembered Tina’s brother John Renn, who died last year.
Jessica Lynch, a member of St. Stephen Martyr Church, attended with her family to remember her 12-day-old daughter who died in September.
“When someone passes, you feel moments. This is a good moment. You can feel joy and grief.”
She watched with a smile as her daughters, 4-year-old Kyndelyn and 7-year-old Kyla, each made an ornament in memory of their baby sister, Kynna.
The little girls, Lynch said, “know they’re here to remember their sister.”
Afterward, they would add their ornaments to the hundreds hanging from the fir tree.
Nathalie Ising, also a member of St. Stephen Martyr, was there with her husband, Brian, to remember their son Conner Ising who died last year on Dec. 27 at age 23.
“To be with other people who know how you feel, you don’t feel so alone,” she said. “This is our first time.”
Brian Ising noted that he was grateful to the cemetery’s grounds crew who told him about the tree lighting earlier that day.
“I came by today to pay my respects to my son and they told me about it,” he said. “My son’s right over there. He’s a hundred yards away from here. He’s right over there tonight.”
He had gone to Lexington that day to put up a tree for his younger son and his roommates, he noted.
“It’s funny isn’t it? They both have a tree,” he said through tears.
In an interview after the event, Archbishop Kurtz said the Tree of Remembrance is “a time the church remembers those who grieve. We need to assist those who grieve.”
He also happened to note that his father died years earlier on Dec. 27, the same date as Conner Ising. He used to wonder about the proximity to Christmas, he said.
“Is that a good thing to be close to Christmas? I decided it is. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a time of prayer,” he said.
The Tree of Remembrance was created to help grieving people with that remembrance during the holidays, said Javier Fajardo, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries, part of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“We noticed when someone dies, that hole seems to be deeper at Christmas — a lot of people struggle,” he said. “This is a way to incorporate their loved ones.
“Sometimes you grieve on your own, but when you’re here, you all grieve together,” said Fajardo.
During the evening event, the archbishop also reminded those in attendance to remember those buried in the cemetery with no one to pray for them, as well as people “without the gift of hope” in their lives.
Free ornaments will be available throughout Advent and Christmas at the Catholic Cemeteries office, 1600 Newburg Road. The ornaments will remain on the tree through the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6. Families are welcome to stop by the cemetery office to retrieve their ornaments until Jan. 31.