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Pragmatic priests

Pragmatic priests

Editorial |

Discarding traditional practices observed for decades, religious practices at that, is never simple. Hence though their “success rate” is yet to register any dramatic dimension, appreciation is certainly due to a few Catholic priests in Mumbai who are promoting more practical and eco-friendly burial alternatives to the customary use of solid wood coffins and gravestones of granite or marble. The use of shrouds instead of wooden coffins is being encouraged at St. Blaise church in the western suburb of Amboli, where 15 such burials have been conducted in recent months. The immediate benefits are avoiding the expense of thousands of rupees on wooden coffins, and using less of the limited space in already cramped cemeteries. A longer term benefit is that bodies only wrapped in sheets decompose comparatively quicker, so the land can be re-used sooner than after a “coffin burial”. In what critics might slam as “Satan citing scripture”, the parish priest there enlightens his flock that Christ was also buried in a shroud. At another church in Malad, instructions have been issued that coffins be made only of inexpensive wood and simple cloth, while at a third church the burials are held with coffins being left uncovered, and the graves marked by flower-beds and saplings instead of stone slabs. All these could be described as “compromise solutions”, for though the Church now permits cremation and burial of the ashes or their being spread over gardens, old habits die hard. One fall-out is the lament, heard in most Indian cities, of a shortage of cemetery space; and subsequently complaints of poor maintenance of cemeteries. Unfortunately, efforts like those in Amboli and Malad — other parts of the country too, to be fair, — remain essentially “local” initiatives, linked to the preferences of the parish priest, or leaders of that specific congregation. There is need for religious leaders of all Christian denominations to try and re-write a common burial code. And new architecture — memorial walls, for example — to be introduced. Sentiment, alas, can sometimes come in the way of pragmatism.