Suicide as sin gets a decent burial in Kerala churches

With changing times, conventions and practices in churches have also undergone changes.

The Syro Malabar Catholic Church has decided that it will start giving a 'decent' burial to those who commit suicide, which is considered as a sin in Christianity.

Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelekkat said: "Formerly in our church all those committing suicide used to be buried in one corner of the cemetery. The body would not be placed inside the church and no priest would conduct any service at all."

But now the church has started giving them a simple burial. The body of the victim is brought to the church, a priest would be there, two ornamental umbrellas and a wooden cross would be used for the service, he added.

But the parish vicar and the church council still have the power to decide if the victim deserves the honour. If the council decides that the suicide was a 'scandalous' one, then the body is not allowed inside the church, Thelekkat added.

Though the change in the rituals was announced in 2003, it is only recently that it has been brought into practice, the priest added.

Christians in Kerala account for around 23 percent of the 3.2-crore (32 million)population, and of this Syro Malabar Catholics account for more than 50 percent followed by other denominations like the Syrian Orthodox and Mar Thoma churches.

Father T.J. Joshua, one of the seniormost priests in the Syrian Orthodox Church, said: "No one knows the mental state of the person who took his life. Maybe he would pray to god. We have now developed a special service for such victims. The priests now offer the incense also. Before the rules were revamped, the body would be taken to the vault and a priest would just go to the home, without wearing the customary black overcoat."

Elaborating on the changes made in the rules in his church, Vicar General of Mar Thoma church, Father A.C. Kurian, said: "Now there is a separate service for such people (who commit suicide).

"The first part of the service is held at home, then the body is brought to the church. The third part is held at the cemetery tomb," he said.

"However, a tomb in the name of the deceased is not given, but the body can either be buried in the family vault, or in the tomb of any relative," said Kurian.

The church's progressive initiatives have found support with the people.
"The family will be passing through great grief, and  support at that time is a must. By giving (the victim) a proper burial it will be of great help to the family. Moreover, even at the last moment the person can repent, god may accept his repentance," said a devout Christian, requesting anonymity.

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