OPINION: Mass Burial for The Dead

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Rev. Fr. Paul Ijasan Parish Priest of Saint Michael’s Catholic Church, Ketu

By Paul Ijasan

Coronavirus!!!! You didn’t do well at all. One of the corporal works of mercy is to bury the dead. I mean a decent burial and not just throwing them inside a hole. Even though all flesh is grass, remember that Jesus Christ took flesh (our human nature) so we also can share in his divine nature.

The flesh is thereby sanctified, the body is sacred. The human person isn’t just a spirit, it is matter (material body). Through this flesh, man is able to accomplish numerous lofty and heroic deeds. Jesus went everywhere doing good through the instrumentality of the flesh. He ascended to his Father after his resurrection in the glorified body. The flesh once weakened by sin through the fault of our first parents (Adam and Eve).

God has a purpose for enveloping us in the flesh in the first place.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” Romans 8:11.

We profess our faith and hope in the resurrection from the dead: the communion of saints (the triumphant, suffering and the militant church). “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Luke 29:37-38.

Mother Theresa once picked up a dying man from the gutter. The only place not covered with maggots in his entire body was his face. She cleaned him up, placed him on a well laid bed and tried to feed him. Suddenly the man’s face shone brightly with a great smile on his face and he said “I’ve lived my life like an animal, now I am going to die like a king”.

Every human being is created with dignity, made in the image and likeness of God. Even the dead must be treated with respect.

In Africa, we celebrate the dead. Some parents even make financial provisions in their Will so as to be celebrated after death. But then, while many would have loved to be around their dead loved ones and pay their final respect, the precarious times we are in have somehow made that almost impossible. The state of emergency that we all find ourselves demands that we shun every elaborate and ostentatious style of celebrating our dead. We are in a war situation.

Nevertheless, we must not be rid of human feelings, emotions and sympathy for those whose loved ones are presently in the morgue. We need to show some sensitivity towards the plight of the bereaved. Some relatives are handicapped at this moment due to the lockdown with regards to financial means to give their departed ones a befitting burial.

Inability to meet up with the State requirements of burying their loved ones within the prescribed period might not be because they deliberately would want to defy any authority. Some CANNOT even pay the mortuary fees. So before embarking on a mass burial, can we go the extra mile of identifying the relatives of the dead and hear them out? Can we make provisions for them in our budget at this time.

Throwing their dead into unidentifiable holes without thorough consideration for these people will further add sorrow to the pain they are already experiencing. A worse insult to their sensibilities than the demise itself. It might be a trauma for some of them. Death issue is a very sensitive and delicate one and so utmost care and diligence must be taken to ensure that the wrong steps and decisions are not taken concerning their final farewell.

Today’s pauper can be tomorrow’s king, who might desire to exhume and relocate the remains of their dead to a more decent and befitting grave. The graves of the Prophets and Saints  that many visit at the Holy sites today are made possible by those  with vision and great respect for the dead by preserving the remains for numerous reasons: spiritual/historical etc.

A Rev. Sister (from my parish) carrying out her apostolate in Germany travelled back to Nigeria to bury her sister, and to stay with and console their mother. Few days after her arrival, the lockdown was  imposed due to COVID-19. It was during this period that another death hit the family: the mother died (both are unrelated to the virus). I’ve exhausted my words of comfort and consolation to her and the members of her family. I’ve asked God to take over. Please help in praying for her and the family. She, like many others are already nursing the fear of what would become of their dead.

The situation at hand isn’t caused by them neither by those in authority who must make very tough decisions in this unprecedented moment. It could be anyone. But then, whatever we can do to ease their pain would go a long way in preserving the good memories of their departed loved ones.

The true civilization of any society is reflected in the way and manner they treat their dead. There will be life after COVID-19, and both the good and bad deeds, right and wrong decisions we make at this time will not be forgotten.

History will either commend or condemn us. Whichever the case might be, knowing fully well that human beings cannot be adequately or 100% satisfied, let it at least be on record that based on what was available at the time (resources/possibilities suggestions), we have in good conscience sufficiently done our best. Our best even though may not be good enough from others’ point of view, but that is what any reasonable human being would do judging from what he has at his disposal.

We continue to pray for the dead, especially those who have lost their lives through this evil: May God whose mercy knows no boundary grant them pardon for their sins and grant their souls eternal rest in His kingdom. For the ones they left behind, may God grant comfort and consolation through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord.  Amen.

Rev. Fr. Paul Ijasan, is the Parish Priest of Saint Michael’s Catholic Church, Ketu, Lagos.

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