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As Catholics, should we be worried about the future of our cemeteries? Msgr. Patrick Pollard answers these questions and more...
Chicago Cemeteries to Stay Catholic, Pollard Says

Burial is an age-old custom. The final journey in life. For over 100 years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has buried its faithful in over 40 cemeteries across Lake and Cook counties. These picturesque expanses of rolling hills, trees and ponds help the grieving. But new alliances between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Diocese of Tucson and two large funeral conglomerates have raised some questions. Are these business agreements born out of the desire for large profits, or are they practical? Will they still be Catholic?

Can you tell me your impressions of the new relationships between funeral conglomerates and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Diocese of Tucson?

Msgr. Patrick Pollard: Obviously what the archdiocese of Los Angeles chose to do, as I understand it, is lease land in six of their diocesan cemeteries. Stewart Enterprises is going to put up a funeral home on each of those locations. That has obviously started a lot of the conversation. It's a distinctive situation in Los Angeles. That distinctiveness varies across the country. In the Los Angeles area, there are funeral homes in non-Catholic cemeteries. It's been a practice for many years.

That's not our practice here. What that indicates is that as you go to different parts of the country there are different styles and practices that are surrounding the whole experience.

Tucson is a little different. They only have two small diocesan cemeteries.
Are there any plans to invite a relationship like this into the Archdiocese of Chicago?

Msgr. Pollard: Our intention, as we stated to the Presbyteral Council at the May 12 meeting, was that the archdiocese has every intention to continue to own and administer the Catholic cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago. That's a ministry of this local church. And we have no intention of any kind of linkage or agreement with any of the corporate funeral homes/cemeteries entities.

And why is that? Why is there the determination to stay autonomous?

Msgr. Pollard: Our determination is based on the fact that we consider this a ministry. That's our whole focus. The real focus here is that we go back to the real understanding of this ministry. I believe it's a core ministry.

Let me describe why I think this is a core ministry. In our catechism the works of mercy are described as charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in a spiritual and bodily necessity. The corporal works of mercy consist especially of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned and burying the dead.

My interpretation of that is that burying the dead is a core ministry. And we hold those core ministries close to the heart of the community.

In our nation, in our archdiocese, in dioceses across the country, we've taken those charitable works of mercy and through the resources of really wonderful men and women we have made massive charitable organizations. Our Catholic Charities are enormous across the country. We keep thinking of different ways to reach out in charity to many people in many situations.

We've done the same at Catholic Cemeteries–making a massive organization to serve the burying of the Catholic faithful. I believe that is a core ministry. I believe it's something the church has to do and not give that over to someone else to do in our stead.

Do you think Tucson and Los Angeles have done that?

Msgr. Pollard: I can't judge exactly what they've done. I'm more concerned about what we're doing here. I don't want to express an opinion on what they've done or why. I'm just looking at our local church situation and I'm very concerned that this is a core ministry. And it is something we have to do and do well.

So what makes a Catholic Cemetery 'Catholic'?

Msgr. Pollard: You start with the place. In older rituals, the ground would be consecrated by the bishop. It is a place that is a part of the church community. In an older setting the cemetery was often on the grounds next to the church. So when people come in, they feel exposed to the church in life and in death.

In our modern setting where we've made these large diocesan cemeteries, with hundreds of acres and are here to serve many parishes, we try to maintain that same effect–that this is an extension of your parish community. As you enter that parish community through baptism and you lived out your Christian life with this faith community, with this parish community, it follows that because you have committed yourself to that faith community, in death you want to be at rest with others of baptized, with others who have possessed that same faith commitment. It is a place where all are resting in hope of the resurrection.

You're visiting Queen of Heaven Cemetery on an 80-degree day. There are people in the cemetery who come to visit their loved ones. Then they go for a walk. They find it a place of prayer and rest, surrounded by the symbols of our faith. Maybe all this gives it a Catholic identity.

How do you continue to offer a truly Catholic experience in the light of the challenges of the modern world. Particularly with what has happened in Los Angeles and Tucson?

Msgr. Pollard: You can't lose site of the ministry. If you feel that this is simply an agency of the church that provides a simple service and then you're not sure if that service is a ministry well then you're on another road of thought. I think our constant focus is that this is a ministry, and throughout all these years we have lived that mission. It means a great deal to have a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership by the Catholic faithful–a sense that this is a tie-in with every parish community in the archdiocese.

Are there any changes on the horizon for Catholic Cemeteries?

Msgr. Pollard: There are many challenges facing all the ministries of the church. We continually evaluate our ministry to provide the best service to the Catholic faithful. We plan to continue our ministry of service well into the next millennium.

Reprinted with permission of The New World

The Interview, a regular feature of The New World, is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

This week, New World staff member Bill Britt talks with
Msgr. Patrick Pollard, Archdiocesan Director of the Archdiocese of Chicago's Catholic Cemeteries.

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