Capuchin Friar of the El Verano Cemetery in Rome Speaks on Cremation
By Sergio Mora
ROME, 2 Nov. 2012 (ZENIT)
On the occasion of All Souls Day, observed on November 2, Friar Luca Casalicchio, the Capuchin friar in charge of Rome’s “El Verano”, Cemetery spoke with ZENIT to clarify several norms on the treatment of the remains of the deceased.
ZENIT: The Church, who at first did not accept cremation, now does. Why?
Friar Casalicchio: Today cremation has lost the ideological characterization it had years ago as opposition to the idea of the resurrection and of man’s religious dimension. Moreover, there is a practical need. For example, here in this cemetery of El Verano, one can only be placed if one has an ancient tomb, but sometimes it’s not known how much space there is, thus the funeral urn is a solution as there is always a place available for it.
Cremation before the funeral is allowed only in very particular situations, such as in cases of deaths abroad, as the transportation of the body is complex and it also means economic difficulty. Thus, the transportation of ashes is very simple, both from an economic standpoint as well as a bureaucratic point of view.
ZENIT: But there are there some concrete suggestions?
Friar Casalicchio: The Church recommends one thing: the cremation must take place only after the funeral. To do it before the funeral, there must be an exception, as in the examples I just mentioned. And just like the coffin, the ashes must be accompanied to the cemetery by an ordained minister, with prayers and a prayer when the urn is placed in the tomb.
ZENIT: Is it an obligation or a recommendation?
Friar Casalicchio: The State allows one to take them to one’s home, or that the ashes be scattered, etc. The Church, instead, asks for respect for the body of the deceased, and even if it is reduced to ashes it must be kept in a cemetery. For the Church, it is not right to take home the urn with the ashes.
In the case of the funeral rite, when the deceased is already ash in the urn, the Church does not provide either the incense or the aspersion, as opposed to what is done with the coffin, in order to emphasize the difference between the body and the ashes.
ZENIT: When were the new norms on cremation published in Italy?
Friar Casalicchio: In 2007, the Italian Episcopal Conference presented a book entitled: “We Proclaim Your Resurrection,” where all the norms were given on cremation, which come into effect in Italy this Friday.
ZENIT: What problems exist in cemeteries of highly populated cities?
Friar Casalicchio: In the large urban cemeteries, as opposed to the cemeteries of smaller cities, is the component of "de-personalization." Although on the part of the people there is faith, the roots, the place of grief, persons come to adorn the tombs, to bring flowers, to visit them, despite the difficulty of distance.
ZENIT: Is there a place today in cemeteries for, shall we say, a traditional burial?
Friar Casalicchio: Yes, but here in El Verano only a family that has a tomb, whereas, in other cemeteries there is room either for burial or in niches.
ZENIT: What does your experience tell you about cremation?
Friar Casalicchio: Something that caught my attention particularly is that many persons feel guilty for having cremated their loved ones, because they have the impression that violence has been done to their bodies, although cremation accelerates a natural process that lasts between 15 and 20 years and sometimes longer.
Because after leaving the body of a loved one they find his ashes in a receptacle, and sometimes this creates a strong trauma in persons who then accentuate their feeling of guilt. My experience indicates that many times words of consolation must be said to the living to console them in face of what they have experienced. Also when the will of the deceased was to be incinerated, the living sees the experience as a sorrow, even though understanding that it’s a necessity.
ZENIT: What must be said in homilies?
Friar Casalicchio: Without a doubt, hope in the resurrection must be infused […]. I think that on the dimension of the Judgment, a key of reading is one given by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spes Salvi, which shows the Judgment as a place of hope.
ZENIT: And popular devotion in the liturgy for the dead?
Friar Casalicchio: There is a strong link because cemeteries are the place of roots. It’s lovely to see, especially on Saturdays, whole families who come with children to visit their loved ones.
It’s also the place of grief, where the tears are dried of the inconsolable, especially in the case of children who have died.
ZENIT: As well as cases that are particularly painful?
Friar Casalicchio: The new part of the cemetery were the tombs of children are, is the most painful, where there are toys, where one sees young couples who come every day. There are mothers who have been coming for thirty years to mourn their children, at times risking their safety as it gets dark early in winter and secondary roads are not always safe. It’s also a place of hope, and in this cemetery in particular, a place of art, of beauty and of history.
ZENIT: Is there a sense of eternal life in people?
Friar Casalicchio: There is a longing for something that goes beyond this life, that affections aren’t broken and don’t end this way; undoubtedly that feeling is in the heart. A sentiment that must be purified, educated, etc. Perhaps the concept of the resurrection of the flesh is easier, which is fundamental for us. But the sense of eternal life exists.
[Translation by ZENIT]