There are many ways – some more conventional than others – that cremated remains, kept in urns or in other containers, find their way to the Catholic cemetery overseen by Richard Peterson in Seattle, Washington.

Sometimes, an urn is left on the steps of a parish by an anonymous person. Other times, remains are unwittingly passed from one family to another during estate sales.

“We’ve had situations where people have purchased contents of storage units that have gone up for auction…and they received cremated remains,” he said.

“We don’t even know if they were Catholic, but we were burying them at no charge in the Catholic cemeteries because those people were human beings and their lives were worth something and they need to be memorialized, at least buried properly,” Peterson said.

More typically, a family will keep the urn of a loved one in their homes, due to a difficulty in saying goodbye, or because of the high costs of a burial, or because they were not aware that the Catholic Church requires their burial or interment. But keeping remains in the home is always a temporary thing, Peterson noted.

“At some point in time, somebody’s going to have to deal with those cremated remains that are in an urn on the mantle. Is that when the house gets sold? Is that when grandma dies?” he said.

Furthermore, cremated remains are often treated in a way that does not show proper reverence to the body or respect for the Catholic belief in the resurrection, he said.

“Scattering or keeping them at home or subdividing cremated remains, or turning them into jewelry, or any of these things really don’t remind us that…our bodies are sacred and they should point us to deeper participation in the dying and rising of Jesus himself. That’s really our focus, is our Lord.”

This is why many Catholic cemeteries in dioceses throughout the United States began offering free interment of cremated remains, said Peterson, who is the president of Associated Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“It’s something you find in any diocese or I say I would say almost every diocese in the country in one form or another,” he said….

The offer of free interment also ensures a proper resting place for the remains even if a family is unable to afford burial fees, said Gary Schaaf, executive director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services in Northern Colorado.

“There’s a story from our sister cemeteries in California where there was a man who had been homeless for a couple of years, and he was carrying his wife’s cremated remains around in a shopping cart,” Schaaf said.

“And he just didn’t know what to do. Imagine the anxiety of not knowing what to do with that and just the enormous pressure. One, you’re lonely, you’re homeless. Maybe your priority in life was taking care of your spouse, and now they pass away. It’s just tragic on a multitude of levels,” he said.

“And so I know that that gentleman, our ability to lay his loved one in sacred space and then in essence help him fill the void of loss with faith…was profound.”

The interment does not take away the wound of loss, Schaaf added, “but it does allow that wound to heal. And wounds, in a sense, they heal sometimes with scar tissue, and scar tissue often is stronger than regular tissue….”


The above comes from a Nov. 3 story by the Catholic News Agency.