For some Christians it is okay to be cremated

Shrinking Spaces

Due to space crunch in Delhi, many Christians in the city and beyond are now opting for cremation instead. Interestingly though, this tradition has not developed recently. Many members of this miniscule community, as a personal choice had preferred cremation, but such a practice was rare and far between.

This however seems to be changing, thanks largely to the shrinking spaces and overburdened cemeteries in the city.

There are about eight Christian cemeteries in the city and ‘most of them are ‘full’. Only cemeteries in Burari and Dwarka allow fresh graves, the latter only kuchcha or mud graves as they can be reused after 5-6 years, besides, kuchcha graves also reduce the cost of funeral. In view of the shrinking spaces many old cemeteries in the city such as the Indian Christian Cemetery in Paharganj and York Cemetery are exploring the option of reusing graves — digging up the existing one for second burial.

But reuse of pucca or concrete graves is allowed only after 10 years, and only people with a family member already buried in that particular cemetery are allowed to avail of this facility. With space for the last resting place a big issue, community leaders are advising ‘cremation’ and thereafter burial of the ashes as a viable option.

As one enters York Cemetery at Prithviraj Road, one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in the city, one can see many small gravestones in close proximity to each other. These grave stones mark the place where the ashes of the deceased are buried.

There is no scriptural command speaking against cremation for Christians. Some believers object to the practice of cremation on the basis that Christ had been buried. According to the Bible, ‘the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.’

Metrolife spoke to pastors and lay persons of the community to find out how comfortable Christians were with ‘cremation as opposed to the ‘traditional burial’ and whether consigning the body to flames as funeral rite is condemned by Christian theology.

Father George, director of Holy Family Hospital says, “Burial was a Jewish custom. And I believe that it is just being carried on as a tradition after knowing that the deceased Jesus was laid in a tomb. Nowhere in the Bible is it mentioned that Christians have a definitive way of
disposing the body.”

The fact has been backed by the Presbyter-in-charge at the Cathedral Church of the Redemption, New Delhi, Dr. Paul Swaroop who added that, “funeral just means last rites and as far as I am aware, the bodies that are being cremated,
its ashes are being buried in a cemetery.”

Sister Philomena, also from Holy Family Hospital, says, “Jesus never proposed any religion; he just preached love and forgiveness.” She adds, “Personally I would want burial but I am not against the practice. For instance, my son has already told me that he wants to be cremated and so he will be.”

“Church laws are made based on the Bible and the laws suggest that we get burial,” says Sister Philomena.

Father George says, “It’s more of conditioning that people have gotten attached to by visiting family graves. Since the ashes are being buried, people can still have family graves which could be difficult in case of proper burial of the body, as one body takes at least 10 years to decompose and hence having another body in its place before that would also result in crunch
for space.”

“The Church is going through evolution and transition. Holy Father St. Francis has asked one to be aware of the context of the place they live in and be a part of the evolution and growth,” adds Father George.

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