Archbishop dedicates St. John Paul II Mausoleum at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery

Archbishop Vigneron pauses to bless a life-size statue of St. John Paul II inside the new mausoleum.

Brownstown Township — Outside of churches, cemeteries are the most sacred places in the Church.

With cemetery staff and loved ones of those who’ve passed on to the next life in the congregation, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron spoke of the importance of cemeteries during the June 18 dedication Mass of the new St. John Paul II Mausoleum at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township.

The new chapel will serve as the cemetery’s indoor mausoleum, complementing the outdoor mausoleum the cemetery has near the entrance of the grounds.

The archbishop referred to cemeteries as the “gateways” to heaven, a transition point between a person’s time on Earth and being called up to heaven.

Before blessing the altar, Archbishop Vigneron reminded the congregation that it’s the same altar at which their loves ones were baptized, confirmed, received Communion, where married and ultimately, were buried, since Jesus Christ unites them all.

“It’s right to read Scripture, to read about what God has said, regarding what we will see and do in a few minutes,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “This building is more than a room or auditorium, it’s a chapel with an altar. This chapel is where the sacraments happen on this altar. Isaiah writes that God destroys death forever on the altar. But this altar is the same as the one in Jerusalem, because Jesus Christ made all altars Jerusalem through his death.

”After Mass, Fr. Tim Babcock, liaison for the archdiocesan cemeteries and a board member of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Detroit, thanked staff and planners who worked on the four-year project, complete with a life-size bronze statue of St. John Paul II and a stained-glass window from now-closed Our Lady of Lourdes Church in River Rouge, a nod to the Downriver

Fr. Tim Babcock, liaison for the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, speaks during the June 18 dedication of the St. John Paul II Mausoleum at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township. Behind him is a stained glass window transported to the new mausoleum from the now-closed Our Lady of Lourdes Church in River Rouge.

Photos by Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholicfamilies who remember worshipping at the parish.

“This is a historic, momentous day for Our Lady of Hope Cemetery,” Fr. Babcock said. “On behalf of all those who worked on this project, providing sacred, beautiful rest to the loved ones buried here and all who visit who feel that rest, we hope you find the peace we look to provide.

”During the Mass, the archbishop sprinkled holy water on the altar and statue — pausing to stare into the statue’s eyes and pray — and circle the building, dosing the outer walls with holy water.

Follow Mass, the congregation was invited to an outdoor reception to celebrate the dedication of the mausoleum.

“Four years ago, Fr. Babcock had the idea for this chapel,” said Deanna Cortese, location manager at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery. “We have an outdoor mausoleum, but it’s at capacity. We needed to provide more space and have an indoor mausoleum, so Fr. Babcock led the way with how it should look.

”Along with statue, the mausoleum features glass niches where loved ones can commemorate peoples’ lives with pictures, small statues or mementos, all of which help them find closure and serenity when visiting, Cortese said.

Our Lady of Hope first opened the mausoleum on Mother’s Day for people to come and see the chapel, and Cortese said around 200 people visited.

“It’s such a beautiful place for people in the Downriver community to come to be laid to rest, and there is so much history with Our Lady of Lourdes in the area,” Cortese said. “People comment on seeing the window when they were younger, so it’s great to incorporate it into the design of the chapel and have the window in the Downriver community where it belongs.”

Archbishop Blesses Grave Marker for 14 Abortion Victims at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

Memorial service part of National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children, one of 180 such services held nationwide

SOUTHFIELD — In a somber ceremony on a bright sunny afternoon at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, nearly 80 people gathered near two tiny graves marked by a single carnation each.

Beneath the marble slabs, gently covered by tiny blades of grass, lay the remains of 37 infants, resting in eternal peace.

“We really are at a very special place,” said Monica Miller, Ph.D., director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. “It is special irrespective of whether there are aborted babies actually buried here, because this is the infant section of the cemetery.”

The memorial service at Holy Sepulchre was one of 180 such services held around the country Sept. 14 as part of the National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Babies, an annual event co-sponsored by the Michigan-based Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Priests for Life and the Pro-Life Action League.

At the Holy Sepulchre service — one of five services in Michigan — Miller recalled being struck by the differences between the inscriptions on the graves of adults versus those of children.

“On adult graves, it might just say, ‘Joe Smith, father,’ and that’s about it,” Miller said. “No endearments, all very stark. On the babies’ graves, I remember one grave marker said, ‘Tread lightly, for a dream is buried here.’”

For the victims of abortion buried at Holy Sepulchre, that dream was turned into a nightmare at the hands of two local abortionists: fourteen were killed by Michael Roth and were found in the trunk of his car in September 2015, Miller said; the 23 others were victims of Alberto Hodari, buried in 2008.

The “Roth babies” were buried at Holy Sepulchre last fall, Miller said, in a ceremony presided over by Auxiliary Bishop Robert Fisher. An additional Roth victim was buried last fall at Holy Spirit Parish in Brighton.

Joining those mourning the loss of the infants, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron was on hand to bless the grave marker covering the Roth victims’ resting place.

Addressing those gathered, the archbishop reflected upon the purpose of Catholic cemeteries as places where the souls and remains of the deceased are entrusted to God’s mercy.

“We believe that cemeteries are temporary places,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “This is where we entrust the remains of our beloved dead until the second coming of Christ. It’s only for a time that the dead are buried.

“Christ died and rose precisely so that his words of invitation, his words of inviting trust would be real and not a simple aspiration,” the archbishop continued. “We entrust these children to the ever open and ever tender heart of Christ.”

Apart from being a way to memorialize those who had been discarded and forgotten, the memorial was a reminder that abortion continues to victimize the most innocent and helpless human beings among us, Archbishop Vigneron said.

“For us, this can be a day of another kind of entrustment, to entrust to the Lord our aspiration to make abortion in our country once again illegal,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “It ought not to be legal.”

Miller, who is one of the key organizers for the nationwide prayer vigils, added that the 37 babies buried at Holy Sepulchre are some of the few abortion victims who are even afforded the dignity of a reverent burial.

Still, all those who suffer indignity are united with Christ in his blood on the Cross, Miller added.

“The unborn, killed by abortion, will on this side of heaven always remain strangers to us,” Miller said. “We don’t know them. I don’t know them. But I believe that we will see them someday. And we’re going to know whose broken arms those belong to, and to whom whose severed legs belong. Those crushed hands, whose hands are they? We’re going to know.

“Maybe it’s my personal theology, but I believe that when someone suffers an injustice that is imposed upon them, and they are incapable of doing anything about it, they share in our Lord’s suffering on the Cross,” Miller continued. “They’re with him. They are participating in his crucifixion, and that’s redemptive for them. And I believe they’re saved by that. So we can take comfort that we will see them someday.”

After the service, which included hymns and readings from Scripture, attendees were invited to place carnations on the two grave markers, and a petition was circulated to collect signatures for the Michigan Values Life petition drive, which seeks to ban dismemberment abortion in Michigan.

In addition to the Holy Sepulchre service, memorials were held at Assumption Grotto Parish Cemetery in Detroit, White Chapel Cemetery in Troy, St. Joseph Cemetery in Lansing and Holy Spirit Parish Cemetery in Brighton.

Join Holy Sepulchre in Dedicating Their New Blessed Solanus Casey Section

On the evening of September 13, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery is set to honor Blessed Solanus Casey with a new cemetery section that will bear his name. Bishop Donald Hanchon will dedicate the new Blessed Solanus Casey section and an hors d’oeuvre reception including wine from the Bishop’s Vineyard will immediately follow.
Blessed Solanus Casey, born Bernard Francis Casey, was a priest in the Capuchin Order and served in Detroit. Throughout his life, he had a special bond with the poor and celebrated special masses for the sick. In 1929, Blessed Solanus Casey helped found the Capuchin Soup Kitchen that still serves meals to Detroit residents in need.

The Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir will provide entertainment for guests during the dedication’s wine tasting reception. The choir is made up of patrons, volunteers and supporters of the soup kitchen. Anyone is welcome to join the choir if they feel moved by the spirit, and guests will surely feel the choir’s joy during this special event.

Holy Sepulchre is a Catholic cemetery, founded in 1928, and located in Southfield, Michigan. Its natural beauty of trees, flowers, ponds and ample birdlife fill visitors with a sense of peace and comfort in knowing their loved ones are reverently being housed on sacred grounds, awaiting the promise of everlasting life.

At the wine tasting event, Holy Sepulchre will share information about its unique mission program. The Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services Blessed Solanus Casey Endowment Fund provides financial assistance to bury the ashes of unclaimed remains, as well as for burial plots for unclaimed remains at no cost. In addition, the fund will provide no cost burials for children under the age of two, including miscarriages. This program highlights Holy Sepulchre’s commitment to help the greater community.

Resting At Peace

At age 13, James Williams was facing $9,000 in expenses.

For years, the Renton Junior High School student housed the cremated remains of three loved ones in his New Boston bedroom.

His mother, Barbara McGuire Williams, died in 2011. His father, James Allen Williams, died last November. Grandfather Aaron McGuire died in 2008.

James and his aunt/guardian of 10 years, Lucinda McComb, wanted to inter the cremains, but the cost was prohibitive.

McComb called several cemeteries over the last two years and got prices of $3,000 each for a crypt and $475 each to scatter the ashes.

A single mother of four, McComb also is the adoptive parent of three children. She couldn’t afford the fees, but she knew James needed peace.

“He’s a little boy. He’s carried around three loved ones’ ashes. For him, it wasn’t closure,” said McComb. “He feels responsible for his family. He doesn’t have to carry these ashes.”

On Friday, James and McComb interred all three relatives for free at St. Joseph Cemetery.

Through the Archdiocese of Detroit’s “Gather Them Home Program,” people of all faiths can inter cremains at no cost. No questions are asked, and families do not have to prove hardship. Cremains can be interred all year long but, four times a year, a memorial Mass in the cemetery’s Chapel of Light takes place before the interments.

Friday’s Mass coincided with All Souls Day, which was Monday. All Souls Day is a day to remember the deceased.

About two dozen people attended the memorial service celebrated by the Rev. Giancarlo Ghezzi from Sts. Mary and John Catholic Churches.

Eleven others also were laid to rest Friday: Louis Ambrose, Garret Wayne Eastes, James Imhoff, Peter Francis Knapp, Gary A. Maschke, John R. McKenzie, Lisa Schaffenberg, Joseph Sommers, Lillian Christine Van Riper, Elton Dale Zeemer and an unknown person.

Nine of them were brought by Rupp Funeral Home.

“The most tragic cases are where we have accepted unclaimed cremated remains from local funeral homes or the remains of unidentified deceased or deceased who had no known next-of-kin from Monroe County or outside counties,” said Rachel Lazere, family service advisor at St. Joseph Cemetery.

In his homily, Rev. Ghezzi said the church remembers all who have died, even if they have been forgotten by people.

“The church always remembers and prays for all our faithfully departed brothers and sisters,” he said.

At the end of the Mass, Rev. Ghezzi blessed each person’s urn of cremains with holy water. Then they were taken outside, where each was placed in the cemetery’s community All Souls Remembrance crypt.

James’ aunt learned about the “Gather Them Home Program” from her daughter, who saw it on social media. She knew it was the answer they’d been looking for.

“I think the program is amazing,” said McComb. “This program is so important. They don’t even know us. My boy is nondenominational. Rachel said it was no problem. She was so caring and supportive. I needed that.”

Days before the burial, James and McComb were shown the crypt, and James was given a candle with each loved one’s name on it.

The teen said he feels at peace, knowing his family members are at rest.

“It’s a beautiful place. I’m very grateful to have them here,” said James.

“This is a big thing. It’s a weight lifted off his shoulders,” added McComb. “It’s a relief for him. He’ll never have to worry. He’ll have a place to go visit them. It’s a blessing. This is giving James closure. I can’t say enough.”

The “Gather Them Home Program” was started by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2016.

Families take part for various reasons.

“The most common reason we hear is that the family can’t afford to bury their loves one, but realize the importance of sacred remains being laid to rest in a cemetery,” said Rachel Lazere, family service advisor at the cemetery.

“In other cases, families come to us years after their loved ones passed and they have been keeping the cremated remains at home on their mantle or in their closet because they were not ready to let them go, but now are ready to create final resting places on consecrated grounds.

“Most families openly share their reasons and the stories of their loved ones with us. Sharing their stories is often crucial in their grieving process.”

Families can bring remains for interment any time. Memorial Masses are held periodically at each of the six AOD cemeteries: Our Lady of Hope in Brownstown Township (the third Friday of each month), Holy Sepulcher in Southfield, St. Joseph in Monroe (quarterly), Mount Carmel in Wyandotte and Holy Cross in Detroit.

To date, about 4,000 have been interred through the “Gather Them Home Program,” including 88 at St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe and about 1,500 at Our Lady of Hope in Brownstown Township, said Ted Butkin, outreach manager for AOD Cemeteries.

“We are always looking to help any and all families at each of our locations,” said Butkin. “For many families, this is an opportunity to provide closure. We know it is a difficult decision, and we want to help any possible way we can.”

Names of Loved Ones Lost to COVID-19 Lifted in Prayer at All Souls Memorial Mass

During All Souls Mass celebrated especially for those lost to COVID-19, bishop reminds faithful that praying for the dead is an act of charity

DETROIT — In a beautiful and haunting moment midway through the All Souls Day Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit, the names of loved ones who died this past year from COVID-19 scrolled across a screen in the cathedral while others were recited out loud, echoing throughout the church.

In the weeks leading up to the Mass, the faithful were invited to submit the names of victims of COVID-19. The feast day, celebrated Nov. 2, allows the faithful to pray in a special way for the souls of those in purgatory.

While a special Mass for the feast of All Souls is not new, the suffering and death caused by the novel coronavirus brought a whole new level of solemnity to the day’s meaning.

During his homily, Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby said the faithful have in many ways gotten away from praying for the dead.

“This might be a sign of not only our forgetting of the mystery of Christ, but our own want of charity,” Bishop Battersby said. “We, my brothers and sisters, are called to enter into the life and mission not only of Christ, but of our neighbors as well. We must be cognizant of those souls who have gone before marked with the sign of faith; of those souls who cannot pray for themselves any longer, but need our assistance in entering into the beatific vision.”

Those souls will repay us with their gratitude, the bishop said, because even though they cannot pray for themselves, they can intercede for us.

God’s will is for all of humanity, not just a privileged few, to be fully confirmed in Christ, the bishop said. That’s why the annual celebration of All Souls comes one day after the Church celebrates those already dwelling in Christ’s kingdom on All Saints Day, Nov. 1.

“God has given us such dignity in Christ that we ordinary people have a part in Jesus’ divine mission,” Bishop Battersby said. “That we, whether we be pope or pauper, are to be caught up in the mystery of Christ.”

In the Gospel, the bishop noted, Jesus tells his disciples to “be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.”

“If I have any self-knowledge at all, there is an abundance of evidence that you, that I am not there yet,” Bishop Battersby said. “We are not perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect; we have not fully allowed ourselves to be transformed in Christ. We know this is not only for us, but it’s true even for our beloved dead.”

The feast of All Souls plays an ever-important role of charity, Bishop Battersby continued, which is why Holy Mother Church reminds its faithful of the necessity to pray for souls whom, while already saved, are not yet prepared to enter into the perfection of the heavenly Father.

“Today’s memorial is our prayer that this unity, which is our destiny, be enjoyed with all speed through the application of the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice and the sprinkling of his Precious Blood,” the bishop said. “That with the assistance of our prayers, our dearly departed — the souls who lie in consecrated ground, and the souls whose faith does not allow for this time of purification in their thinking, but nevertheless those who are saved — all need purification. For all those destined for heaven must taste the victory of Christ.”

Dioceses Offer Free Interment to Encourage Proper Burial of Cremated Bodies

The “Lay Them to Rest” program in Madison, Wisconsin, follows the lead of similar diocesan programs in Milwaukee, Detroit, Seattle, Denver, Lincoln, and other places.

MADISON, Wisconsin — Bring them home to holy ground for All Souls Day.

That is the message and the simple goal of “Lay Them to Rest,” a new program at two Diocese of Madison cemeteries. Bring the cremated remains of your loved ones home to the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery for interment, at no cost. It is the latest response to a growing Catholic Church problem: cremated bodies that don’t end up in a cemetery after the funeral.

“One question I asked when I started as director of cemeteries for the diocese was whether all Catholics were being buried in Catholic cemeteries,” said Damian X. Lenshek, director of cemeteries for the Diocese of Madison. “The answer is ‘no’ for various reasons, but one that really stuck with me correlated with the increase in cremation. Specifically, more than half – some sources estimate much higher – of cremated remains are never laid to rest in a cemetery. Often they are retained in private residences until they become the property of the next generation.”

The Diocese of Madison will conduct committal rites for cremated remains November 7 at Resurrection Cemetery in Madison and Mount Olivet Cemetery in Janesville. Families can bring urns with cremated remains and have them entombed in a cremation crypt at each cemetery’s mausoleum. There is no cost, although advance registration is required. The deceased will be entered in the cemetery’s burial registry and family will then always know the location of their loved one’s final resting place. Bishop Donald J. Hying will preside at the committal rites.

The program’s goal is to ensure all the dead receive a proper burial, or what the Catholic Church calls a “reverent disposition” of the body. An unknown but potentially large percentage of cremated bodies repose on shelves, tables and mantles of family homes, in vaults at funeral homes and in municipal morgues— instead of buried in holy ground as the Church prescribes. In this they risk being forgotten, or treated with less than the respect that is due the remains of a person with God-given dignity.

The Madison program follows the lead of similar diocesan programs in Milwaukee, Detroit, Seattle, Denver, Lincoln, Nebraska, and other places. Catholic cemeteries are responding to this cremation crisis by removing the financial and logistical barriers to encourage families to properly bury their loved ones. The issue could easily involve many tens of thousands of cremated remains going back decades.

The Archdiocese of Detroit has interred about 4,000 cremated bodies through its annual Gather Them Home program in November and a monthly third-Friday Mass with committal rites. The monthly program averages 50 cremated remains for interment. The remains are laid to rest either in a mausoleum crypt or in earth crypts, at no cost to the families. The program generated a strong response from its inaugural run in 2016.

“On the particular day we had about 205 families that brought their loved ones to us on All Souls Day to have them inurned,” said Deanna Cortese, outreach director for Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services at the Archdiocese of Detroit. “I can tell you there were some extremely powerful moments where the Holy Spirit was at work, when people released their loved ones to our care. It was pretty humbling.”

The following week, another 200 families who were not able to make the All Souls Day event approached the diocese, Cortese said. “We’ve just continued every month with the All Souls remembrance program. It has just kind of spread word of mouth, and it has brought such comfort to families, knowing they have this option if they’re unable to financially afford it.”

Associated Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Seattle dedicated the Cabrini Sanctuary at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle to hold cremated remains at no cost to families. “We find that families are most grateful,” said Richard Peterson, president of Associated Catholic Cemeteries and the current president of the Catholic Cemetery Conference, a national trade group. “The other thing that we have found is that some families at a later date and of their own accord decide to place their loved one in another location in the cemetery so they can create a family lot.”

Families that choose to keep cremated remains in their homes usually do so either because they are having trouble saying goodbye, or they cannot afford to purchase a dedicated columbarium niche or other burial space.

“The one gentleman that sticks out from our Gather Them Home at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Monroe,” Cortese said, “he had his wife at home with him for maybe twenty years. He was carrying her up, so lovingly carrying her up in her urn. It was just a moment that was so personal and intimate for him to let her go, in his grief after all those years. So I would say grief is the number one reason.”

Lenshek said cremation removes the practical need for burial immediately after the funeral. “You lose the urgency. There’s an urgency to burying a body, and I think that’s good,” he said. “The pace of the decomposition of the body and the stages of grief, I think there’s a parallel there. It’s good for us, you’re not rushing through it but you’re stepping through it, and you put the body in the ground. It’s a corporal work of mercy and there’s an urgency that attaches to corporal works of mercy.”

Peterson said there are myriad reasons why so many cremated remains end up in family homes. “These could include a culture that in many ways devalues the person and life, a society that sees everything in terms of commodity, the need for immediate self-gratification, disenfranchisement from the Church by so many, which leads to a lack of a sense of community, limited to no catechetical education (and) a reduction in the acceptance of the teaching authority of the Church,” he said.

Cemetery staff often see how the burden is lifted after a cremated loved one is laid to rest. “The biggest thing is the sense of relief,” said Bob Hojnacki, director of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “They’ll come back and talk to us after on how good they feel that they finally took that step. It was really, really hard for them. That’s a big thing.”

Catholic burial beliefs

The Catholic Church consecrates only two places on earth, those for celebrating Holy Mass and those for burial of the faithful. Catholic cemeteries hold bodies in a sacred trust as the Church awaits the resurrection. As the Roman Missal states, “Lord for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.” The word cemetery —cimiterium in Latin; koimētērion in Greek — means “sleeping place.” The term recalls the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, that Jesus Christ’s resurrection is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” St. Jerome referred to the dead as “sleepers who will one day revive.”

Cremation was neither practiced nor accepted by Catholics through most of Christian history. Early Christians adopted the practices of the Jewish faithful, and especially revered Our Blessed Lord’s burial in the tomb on Good Friday. The 15-volume Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908) put it this way: “The Christians never burned their dead, but followed from earlier days the practice of the Semitic race and the personal example of their Divine Founder. It is recorded that in times of persecution, many risked their lives to recover the bodies of the martyrs for the holy rites of Christian burial.”

In the late 1800s, Freemasons aggressively promoted cremation in the United States and in Europe — especially Italy. It was designed as a direct attack on the Catholic Church’s teachings on the resurrection of the body and eternal life. The journal Rivista della Massoneria Italiana in 1874 wrote against the belief that men and women are on a brief sojourn on earth and sacrifice everything for the life that begins in the cemetery. “This whole theory must be destroyed by the hammer of Freemasonry,” the journal said. In response to these efforts, Pope Leo XIII issued a decree in May 1886 forbidding cremation for Catholics. The decree described cremation as “the abominable abuse of burning human bodies.” Even amputated limbs were to be buried in Catholic cemeteries.

In mid-1963, two weeks after the election of Pope Paul VI, the Holy See softened its stance on use of cremation. Proponents argued that the practice no longer had anti-Catholic hostility, and the Church had never declared the practice itself contrary to the faith. New funeral rites issued in 1970 allowed for cremations, but the Church continued to favor full-body burial. The 1983 Code of Canon Law emphasizes traditional burial, but it allows for cremation “unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”

While cremation is no longer forbidden, the cremated remains must be interred in blessed ground — buried in the earth, inurned in a columbarium niche, or entombed in a mausoleum crypt. Keeping cremated remains at home, dividing them among relatives, encasing them in memorial jewelry or scattering them are forbidden under Church law. The most recent instruction on cremation came in 2016 with publication of Ad resurgendum cum Christo (To Rise With Christ) from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It affirms that cremation is not forbidden, but expresses the longstanding preference for full-body burial.

Cremation dominates funeral industry

Cremation has rewritten the landscape of the U.S. funeral industry since the 1960s. Cremation overtook casket burial in 2015 as the preferred disposition of dead bodies. The cremation rate is projected to reach 78 percent by 2040, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). Of the 3.9 million deaths projected for 2040, only 605,100 will involve traditional burials. Part of the explanation lies with a loss of religious faith.

“A surge in the number of Americans who no longer identify with any religion has contributed to the decline of the traditional funeral in the U.S. and the rise of cremation as the disposition method of choice,” read the 2020 NFDA Cremation & Burial Report. The report said “the percentage of consumers age 40 and older who feel it is very important to have religion as part of a funeral has decreased from 49.5% in 2012 to 35.4% in 2019.”

The rise in cremation rates stands in stark contrast to declines in many key Catholic demographics. Since 1999, the number of infant baptisms in the United States has fallen nearly 42 percent, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. The number of marriages declined even more — 47 percent — during the same period. Catholic funerals declined 17 percent, the number of parishes dropped 12 percent and Sunday Mass attendance dropped 32 percent. The only category with a major increase was in people who self-identify as “former Catholics.” That number skyrocketed, from 3.5 million in 1970 to 29.4 million in 2019.

These realities leave the Church with a tall challenge: educate the faithful on Catholic funeral practices and try to re-engage with fallen-away Catholics. “The Church has a great opportunity to catechize about the value of the human person, the sacredness of life and the sacredness of the body (Temple of the Holy Spirit), the role that Catholic funerals and burial have in deepening faith as we, through those actions, engage in the Paschal Mystery,” said Seattle’s Peterson. “All of this takes work. After all, cremated remains look nothing like the corporeal body remains of a person.”

In Detroit, cemeteries are viewed as a means of evangelization. Some 50,000 people visit the archdiocese’s five cemeteries each year. “We always tell families, a cemetery is a place for the living,” Cortese said. “We know where our loved ones are, so it’s very important to us, and to me personally. In outreach, we want to bring families back. You have this community of people who are grieving with you. Through these events and Masses that we have, you see a lot of healing take place.”

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