Archdiocese to Help Hispanic Families Bury Their Dead

Rev. José Félix Ortega, at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, where cremation services are performed. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult moments in anyone’s life and a heavy financial blow for low-income families, who are often unable to bury their relatives’ remains.

This is one of the concerns priests across New York City hear from their parishioners every day. For that reason, the Archdiocese of New York has launched an initiative to help Hispanics bury the remains of their loved ones in Catholic cemeteries.

“The cardinal (Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan) has learned through priests working with the Hispanic community that many Hispanics are not burying their loved ones at Catholic cemeteries and sometimes not even burying them at all. Many people keep ashes at home because it is too expensive,” said Rev. José Félix Ortega, parish priest at the St. Peter and St. Denis Church in Yonkers. “That is why we are going to help people who have no resources somehow.”

The priest explained that the four cemeteries of the Archdiocese of New York and the 69 graveyards managed by parishes have room for burials and the capacity to cremate.

“For people without resources, there is a section in every cemetery called Saint Joseph of Arimathea,” said the priest, adding that the cost of burying ashes in that community area will be $250, $1,000 for a single niche.

“Every cemetery has a section for bodies called Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,” said the priest, explaining that this type of burial will cost $3,500, almost a third of what a regular service would cost elsewhere.

He added that there will also be a free section for stillborn children, and special assistance for homeless people.

“The idea is to encourage our Hispanic people to bury their relatives at a graveyard and offer due reverence to the remains of our bodies,” said Rev. Ortega. He pointed out that Pope Francis recently said that it is not the Catholic way to keep ashes at home. “The Church approves cremation, but the ashes must be deposited at a cemetery,” he said.

“This initiative is meant specifically for our immigrants. Many people say: ‘I have the respect but not the resources.’ Others think: ‘I will take [the remains] to my country, but I don’t know when.’ This is the chance to lay them to rest properly,” said the priest. He added that parishioners need to communicate with their priests to learn more about burial initiatives, which help ease the pain caused by someone’s death.

“I have seen cases where that type of mourning does not happen, and they live in constant pain because the person who died is there all the time. We need to understand that mourning is a stage towards learning to forget, as hard as it sounds. It is a different stage, and depositing the body or the ashes is a difficult but important step in transforming that human relationship into a spiritual one,” said the priest.

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