Catholic Vancouver Nov. 8, 2017

Cemetery aims to 'do the right thing' with free burial

By Agnieszka Ruck

People pray at the Crypt of the Holy Angels after interring the remains of loved ones for free at Gardens of Gethsemani in 2016. (Gardens of Gethsemani photo)

SURREY—For the third year in a row, Vancouver's Catholic Cemeteries are offering free interment of cremated remains that have remained unburied for at least a year..

“We are trying to do the right thing with cremation and respect to the body,” said Terry Whiteley, outreach and community coordinator at Gardens of Gethsemani.

The Catholic Church teaches human remains may be cremated, but must then be buried in a sacred place, not scattered, divided, or stored on a shelf at home. Whiteley said she’s found many people are not aware of that.

“Cremation is on the rise. People know how to bury a full body, but with cremated remains, they say they will do it later,” said Whiteley. Later becomes never as some people struggle to part with the ashes, or simply can’t afford to bury them. 

Guidelines released by the Vatican one year ago state: “the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted” except in “grave and exceptional cases.” 

So, if a family has been holding on to ashes for at least one year and still hasn’t buried them, Gardens of Gethsemani is offering to do it for them for free Nov. 25.

Whiteley expects to see a few dozen urns at the Reverently Laying to Rest service this year. “People have their aunt or uncle, or their dad, or their brother,” she said. One woman who has contacted the cemetery intends on bringing the ashes of as many as four deceased family members.

This is the third annual Reverently Laying to Rest service at the cemetery. Whiteley said its inaugural event, held in 2015, saw the remains of 55 people interred for free in the communal Crypt of Holy Angels. Numbers dipped slightly below that in 2016.

The prayer service and burial will begin at 10 a.m. Arrangements, including paperwork, for interring remains in the crypt must be complete by Nov. 17.