Teaching Our Faith — Death and grief

In these teaching editorials on evangelization, the authors will present information, inspiration and witness about areas of Church ministry that provide opportunities and challenges to our mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This editorial reflects on death and grief and the ministry of Catholic Cemeteries as an opportunity for evangelization.

Everyone who has lost a loved one experiences a pain that can feel overwhelming at times. Our mission at Catholic Cemeteries is to provide a witness of God’s love to all persons who walk through our doors, with the hope that they will find comfort and peace.

Our ministry brings together people of many different faith backgrounds or no faith background, which allows us to show God’s love to a wide variety of persons.

We reach families during one of their most difficult and vulnerable times. We try to provide a witness of God’s love by treating every person and family with compassion, by showing that every life and every person is important to us, and by showing that dignity cannot be taken away from anyone.

We have identified two areas of our ministry that require special attention: the burial of persons with limited or no resources and the burial of infants.

Our Catholic Cemeteries do not deny burial to anyone because of a lack of funds. Every person is someone’s child. Most important, every person is God’s child and, therefore, has dignity. Donations by families of unused graves allow us to better assist those families and individuals with limited or no resources.

Burying a child is one of the most difficult situations that parents have to face in a lifetime. When a child dies, the order of nature is reversed, which makes it much harder for families to accept. We all expect our parents to go before us, but not our children.

Many of the couples that experience the loss of a child are very young. Some do not have the support of their families, and many have very limited resources.

When a child is lost in the first twelve weeks of the pregnancy, hospitals can treat those remains as medical waste with the permission of the parents. Because of our belief in the dignity of the person, however, many years ago Catholic Cemeteries offered hospitals the possibility of burying those remains, each in an individual wooden container.

Hospitals bring the remains to our office, and our field workers bury them in the unmarked section in a private service.

I have noticed that losing a child is especially hard for mothers. Sometimes, time is not enough to heal from that loss. I have had women in my office crying for babies that they lost ten or fifteen years before that were buried in the unmarked area of the Holy Innocents Section. I have seen firsthand the potential to reach out and provide healing through this particular area of our ministry.

In 2010, we developed the “In God’s Hand Garden,” which offers families a way to memorialize a beloved child with a special place for quiet prayer and reflection. More than fifteen hundred granite pavers are available to families for inscription. In addition, on the last Wednesday of each month, Deacon Bob Markert presides over a prayer service to remember stillborn children or children that lived for any length of time. The names of all children buried during that month in the Catholic Cemeteries are mentioned, and other names, even if buried earlier or in another cemetery, can also be spoken at the request of families and friends. Everyone is invited to attend.

I often remind my staff and myself to never underestimate the influence that our words and actions can have in the life of another person. Mother Teresa once said “if you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” We reach out and minister to one family at a time.

Through my family and my experience with this ministry, I have learned that when you feel God’s love burning in your heart, you want to share it with everyone around you, like a child with a new soccer ball who is so excited to go outside and play with his or her friends. I have learned that when you feel that burning faith, evangelization is no longer only a potential opportunity but becomes a way of life. You are transformed; you transform other people around you, and then great things happen.

Javier Fajardo, Executive
Director of Catholic Cemeteries

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