Driving down Miles Avenue towards the gates of Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland one can not escape the appearance of a neighborhood in crisis. It is an inescapable veneer of vacant lots, homes that are dilapidated or boarded up and a number of retail establishments that do not appear inviting to the average customer. Anyone’s initial reaction would be that the neighborhood is beyond repair, that it has been abandoned and left to the tribulations of the criminals that occupy the underbelly of our society. “It just isn’t safe” is the comment heard when Calvary Cemetery is the topic of conversation.
Yes, the neighborhood has its problems and it has its criminal element that casts a shadow that cannot be ignored or denied but if you spend some time in the community, you will find a determined majority committed to this community and its resurgence as a vibrant and safe neighborhood. Look past the veneer of Miles Avenue and you will find a home meticulously maintained and a life beyond the crimes many perceive are occurring on a daily basis just outside the Calvary gates. Spend some time with the staff at the Union Miles Development Corporation (UMDC) and you will find a group of individuals completely dedicated to this community with vision and optimism. Attend a meeting at the main office of the UMDC and you will meet some of the neighbors and will soon come to appreciate their desire to live in a community free of the ravages of generational poverty and remove the stains caused by its criminal element. Calvary is not an island in a sea of crime but one of the anchors for the renewal of the Miles Avenue corridor. The Diocese of Cleveland through the work of the Catholic Cemeteries Association and the local Catholic churches is a major partner in the resurgence of this community. Many do not realize that this community has a significant number of amazing Catholic Churches and remains home for a vibrant Catholic community that supports these churches. I would remind you of the diversity that exists in the universal church and vibrant Catholic community that exists mere moments from the entrance to a sacred place often perceived as unsafe.
The seeds of renewal have been planted in the Union Miles community and they must now be nurtured in order for them to flourish. One seed was planted by the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Cleveland through its commitment to the revitalization of Calvary Cemetery, Cleveland and the work done to renew this remarkable sacred place.
Passing the iron gates containing sacred symbols of our Catholic faith, a visitor to Calvary will find themselves transported to a place that belies the veneer described above. Majestic oaks line the perimeter and in the spring the white blossoms on the flowering pear trees remind us of the purity of Christ’s Resurrection. Our Lady Queen of Heaven guides you on your journey beyond the main entrance and often you will find a visitor reflecting on their relationship with the Blessed Mother. Often we find bouquets laid at her feet as visitors turn to her for comfort in their time of grief.
The memorials found throughout the cemetery tell a story that is wrapped in the history of Cleveland. What impresses most is the artistry used to express a families’ love of God in this outdoor garden dedicated to our belief in something beyond description.
Often the statement “it isn’t safe”, is followed with a comment or two such as “I don’t visit anymore because it’s in a bad neighborhood” or “I don’t like going down there because it is so dangerous” and with disbelief in their eyes, the person who uttered those words is told that no one working at Calvary has ever had an incident. While we cannot deny the deterioration that has occurred in the neighborhood surrounding Calvary, we must not deny the beauty that exists within its gates.
To the families that continue to bring their deceased loved ones to Calvary Cemetery for burial in a family plot or simply because they recognize the sacredness of this beautiful cemetery, be assured of our commitment to this sacred place.
Calvary Cemetery is a sacred place that contains an indescribable serenity and reflects a setting that holds deep regard for our responsibility of stewardship and an abiding love for the deceased. And on some occasions the serenity will be broken by the call of the circling hawk building its nest or the rustle of a herd of deer crossing an open field. To the critics who object to using land for such purposes I say that the example of Calvary is proof that a cemetery does not waste the land but sets it aside for a sacred purpose. This Catholic cemetery is for those who desire to remember their ancestors in surroundings not only preserves the sacredness of our earthly dwelling but acknowledges our faith in a heavenly home.
Post written by Andrej Lah Director of the Catholic Cemeteries Association