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November 18 - December 1, 2012

Where will you be buried?

Jadwiga Dzierzak, a parishioner at St. Thomas Becket, Mount Prospect, places flowers on her grandson's grave at St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles, on Nov. 2. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Marianna Pucek and Maria Boksa, members of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Addison, Ill., place flowers and candles on Marianna's husbands grave at St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles, Ill. Catholics observe All Saints' Day, Nov. 1, and All Souls' Day, Nov. 2, with visits to the cemetery to offer prayers for the dead. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A man stands amid tombstones in St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles, Ill. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A statue of an angel at St. Adalbert Cemetery. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A statue of St. Joseph at St. Adalbert Cemetery. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A woman tends to a grave in St. Adalbert Cemetery. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Michelle Martin

Staff writer

Catholic cemeteries are more than just a final resting place for people who have died. They are an expression of the faith of those who choose to be buried there, and of their unity with the Body of Christ, said Msgr. Patrick Pollard, director of the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The church encourages Catholics to be buried in Catholic cemeteries whenever possible as a way of demonstrating their ongoing participation in the church, even in death.

“We don’t step away from the church, the sacraments, the outreach of Christian action and all the other elements that make up our belonging to a Catholic faith community,” Pollard said. “From the moment the water is poured over our heads in baptism until the final moment when our friends and family members come to pray as we are buried, we are one in Christ.”

Even after burial, those who are interred in Catholic cemeteries show their family members and others how much they cared about sharing in the communion of the church.

“Those buried in Catholic cemeteries give witness to their faith being important enough to be buried in a special place,” Pollard said.

The church has long encouraged the faithful to be buried in Catholic cemeteries not only to provide witness but to ensure that their bodies will be treated with the reverence to which they are due.

It also offers people the assurance that their bodies will be in a place of prayer, a place where Mass is celebrated and a place that will remind their loved ones of the love and presence of God when they come to visit grace sites.

For some, Catholic cemeteries have the added attraction of allowing them to be buried near family members who died earlier, or to start a tradition for their families going forward, Pollard said. For example, he will be buried in a family plot with his parents, while his sister and brother-in-law are starting a new family plot in a different cemetery.

Pollard acknowledged that in some dioceses, there are not enough Catholic cemeteries — or the cemeteries are too far away — to make them a reasonable choice. But that’s not the case in the Archdiocese of Chicago, which has 46 Catholic cemeteries.

“After 175 years, we stand ready to welcome people as we did a century and three-quarters ago,” Pollard said.

Indeed, the cemeteries have been the site of about 2.3 million burials or interments in mausoleums and continue to have about 16,000 interments a year.

That includes the non-Catholic loved ones of Catholics, who also can be buried in Catholic cemeteries.

Pollard said he sometimes jokes that if one Catholic came in to buy 20 graves for his or her family, and the other 19 weren’t Catholic, that would be fine. While that has never really happened, many families buy graves for non-Catholic members.

"We would never want to separate a family," he said.

The cemeteries this year have also provided a final resting place for dozens of people, most of whom are likely not Catholic, whose bodies were left at the Cook County morgue because their families could not afford a burial. After it was reported that bodies were piling up in the morgue, Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago offered up to 300 graves. The first burial of the indigent took place at Mount Olivet Cemetery in April; since then, there have been three more, with another scheduled for this month.

For more information, visit catholiccemeterieschicago.org.

What about cremation?

Since 1963, cremation has been an acceptable option for those of the Catholic faith. Whenever possible, however, the church always prefers the interment or entombment of the body because it gives fuller expression to our Christian faith.

When cremation is chosen, the preferred sequence for the final rites is for cremation to take place after the funeral Mass. Whether cremation takes place before or after the funeral rites, the church expects these families to seek an appropriate final resting place for the cremated remains of the body. The scattering of the cremated remains or keeping the cremated remains in a home are not the reverent disposition that the church requires.

Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago offers the following options for those choosing cremation:

Niches: an above ground burial crypt, sized for an urn containing the cremated remains of the body and allowing for identification and remembrance.

Graves: smaller sized graves that allow for a grave marker to be placed identifying and remembering the deceased. Source: www.catholiccemeterieschicago.org/traditions