Bishop Richard J. Malone marked the Feast of All Souls by presiding at a committal service for unclaimed cremated remains at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna. The Nov. 2 service saw the cremains of over 300 placed in an exterior crypt named the Crypt of the Holy Angels with the inscription, "Eternal Rest Grant unto Them, O Lord."
"To bury the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy, along with feeding the hungry and visiting those who are in prison. It truly is a good and holy thing," Bishop Malone said, noting the service took place shortly before the start of the Year of Mercy. "Pope Francis has declared beginning Dec. 8, the Catholic Church around the world will celebrate a Jubilee Year of Mercy, when we are to ponder God's mercy for us, and also, the way we are called to live that mercy in our lives with one another. This is a beautiful example of that," he said.
The idea to reach out to area funeral homes came from Msgr. Francis Weldgen, a retired priest from the Diocese of Buffalo, who has been on the Diocesan Cemetery Board since 1985. He read about a Catholic diocese down south that requested that unclaimed remains be put into consecrated grounds, and wanted to do the same locally.
"I thought it was a wonderful Christian thing to do, to claim these bodies and not have them simply in basements or closets or someplace in funeral homes," he said.
Funeral industry experts estimate the remains of 1 percent, or nearly 10,000 people, cremated in the United States go unclaimed, due to either plans not being followed through or, perhaps, the deceased had no family to claim the remains.
All the remains at Holy Cross are identified and can be removed for relocation if the family wishes. One urn has been dated as being from 1913. The Church strongly recommends that the cremated remains be treated with respect and reverence with burial in a Catholic cemetery. The cremated remains may be placed (inurned) in a grave, mausoleum, or columbarium niche designated for cremation. They may also be placed in an occupied grave or crypt if room allows. In any case, a maximum of one interment and one inurnment or two inurnments will be permitted in a single grave or crypt.
"The service itself was wonderful. I'm glad the bishop was able to come here. I hope that with some recognition here people will fully understand the importance of reverend disposition in the cemetery and this is the permanent proper place for cremated remains," said Carmen Colao, director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Diocese of Buffalo.
A similar service will be held Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 3 p.m., outside Ascension Chapel Mausoleum at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kenmore, with Msgr. Weldgen presiding.
The participating funeral homes are Amigone Funeral Home; Cannan Funeral Home; Curtin Funeral Home; James E. Grace Funeral Home; John J. Kaczor Funeral Home; Kolano Funeral Home; Lombardo Funeral Home; Thomas H. McCarthy Funeral Home; Pacer-Litwin Funeral Home; Thomas Reddington Funeral Home; John O. Roth Funeral Home and Stephan-Burns Funeral Home.