Is It Safe?

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

I Cried All Day Yesterday

“I cried all day yesterday so that I could be strong for the family today.” If you should ever wonder what kind of people work at the Catholic Cemeteries Association, the quotation above says it all. We know that families need us to be strong when they are broken, to guide them with love and compassion. We give a piece of ourselves to that family as we help them through the most difficult of tragedies. Giving the family a piece of our heart is the only way we know how to do this ministry. I know that every single member of the Catholic Cemeteries Association staff willingly gives of themselves to serve when families need us most.

To all the families served by the Catholic Cemeteries Association staff, whether it is the CEO or the staff member preparing the final place of rest, know that we accept our responsibility with reverence and are devoted to the person loved by you and entrusted to our care.

 

– Andrej Lah, Director of the Catholic Cemeteries Association

 

The Hole

The days are getting shorter, the air is a bit cooler and the smells of fall are everywhere. The stores are filled with Halloween decorations and costumes. Our daily activities dominate our lives and distract us from so many other things happening around us. Many of us will look back on this past summer and remember a great vacation and other grand adventures but for some this summer will carry a different set of memories. Some are dealing with the recent loss of someone they love; a hole created by death that can never be filled.

News of the death of someone we love has different levels of emotional trauma. When it is a child, regardless of the age of the child, the trauma a parent experiences is beyond anything we can measure. The devastation is overpowering and causes such indescribable numbness that some are unable to see how they can survive to the next day. The news of a grandparent is also traumatic but when the deceased had recently celebrated their 100th birthday, everyone expected that one day soon the call would come. We are both traumatized by the loss and grateful for the time we were given. In either situation, those who have faith know that this separation is temporary and it is in our Catholic Cemeteries where the hope of our reunion comes alive.

Fall is the time when we celebrate Cemetery Sunday which is in conjunction with All Souls Day. We celebrate the mass to remember the deceased and pray for them. It is the time that we are reminded of the promise Jesus made to us in those days leading up to His ultimate sacrifice. While there are many sacred places, it is only in a Catholic cemetery where our Catholic faith is fully acknowledged.

Our faith gives us hope and in our Catholic cemeteries we find a truly sacred place to remember the person whose loss has left a hole in our life. It is in our Catholic cemetery where we find that the hole is a bit less painful, because we come to believe in the promise of paradise.

Each of us might reflect on where we would have stood on that very first Good Friday. What would we have done if we had been part of that crowd watching as a man wearing a crown of thorns and a makeshift royal cloak was presented to us for sentencing? Today we know what He did for us without hesitation but where would we have been then?

Today we can reflect on the promise He made and have hope that with our final breath He will be waiting for us along with all those who we loved while traveling along a faith filled path toward paradise. I see in our Catholic cemeteries only hope that our faith will be fulfilled on the last day when the promise made will finally be kept.

When we kneel at the grave of our loved one, their death causes us to grieve but it is the promise that gives us comfort in the knowledge that this separation is only temporary.

The Promise

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at 1026 reads that “By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ”.  As we begin our Lenten journey and prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord and Savior, it is good to reflect on what was done for each of us on that first Good Friday over 2000 years ago.

I imagine being a witness to what was happening in those final hours of the life of this man who showed only love to all he met.  I knew him only as a healer of both physical and spiritual afflictions.  He was kind to everyone even that tax collector who we all despised.  I heard he had even protected an adulteress from being stoned.  What right did he have to stop the righteous from enforcing God’s law?  I saw a few of His miracles and heard of others.  Some of my friends told me that He even raised someone from the dead.  How could this be true?  Raising someone after four days in a tomb simply could not be true.  Maybe this man was possessed by demons like some said he was, but I felt sorry for this man because it appeared that this He was a good man.  Even though Jesus may have been a good man, He should not have challenged the religious leaders and the Romans.  His words and deeds were going to get him into trouble.

I was in the crowd that morning when He was presented to us and the Roman prefect asked what we wanted done with Him.  I hesitated because I didn’t know what to do but then everyone started screaming to crucify Him.  I thought to myself, what do I do? Jesus didn’t commit any crime, but He claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah.  This claim is blasphemous.  Standing there bloodied and beaten, why didn’t He just free himself if He is the Son of God?  He has blasphemed and has not freed us from Rome.  My friends are looking at me and suddenly they start screaming for the insurrectionist, Barabbas.  I didn’t want to get involved but I knew Barabbas was fighting the Romans to free us from their oppression.  I don’t care if Jesus dies because I want Barabbas to live.  What has this Jesus done for me?  So I started screaming for Barabbas too.

That afternoon I went back to my daily activities without even realizing that Jesus died.  His death didn’t affect my life.  I did not know that His death changed my life and He brought forgiveness.  He even forgave me for my betrayal because He knew I didn’t know what I was doing.

Each of must reflect on where we would have stood on that very first Good Friday.  What would we have done if we had been part of that crowd watching as a man wearing a crown of thorns and a makeshift royal cloak was presented to us for sentencing?  Today we know what He did for us without hesitation but where would we have been then?

Today we can reflect on the promise He made and have hope that with our final breath He will be waiting for us along with all those who we loved while traveling along a faith filled path toward paradise.  I see in our Catholic cemeteries only hope that our faith will be fulfilled on the last day when the promise made will finally be kept.

When we kneel at the grave of our loved one, their death causes us to grieve but it is the promise that gives us comfort in the knowledge that this separation is only temporary.

Andrej Lah

OUR CATHOLIC CEMETERIES – EACH A PLACE OF HOPE

Come upon a monument in a Catholic cemetery and you will find a vast number of surnames, some will give the visitor some indication as to the ethnicity of the deceased and others will have been changed over the years to in an effort to embrace their new home. In either case, they lie together in peace as members of our Catholic family awaiting the promise of the Resurrection made on that first Good Friday. Gone are the prejudices and judgments that all human beings struggle with and the only thing that remains is our common faith.

As Catholics we believe there is one God and in His eyes we are all one. In this faith that unifies us we also struggle with our human failings and the things that separate us from each other. We all struggle with our human nature by distinguishing ourselves economically, socially, politically, racially, and sexually and sometimes by national origin. As Catholics we want to be tolerant and accepting because our faith teaches us to love but separation simply occurs. Often this separation is without intent. Despite this separation in life it is in death and interment in a Catholic cemetery where prejudgment and all of life’s labels are washed away.

In a Catholic cemetery you will come upon a majestic monument next to a simple grave. In a Catholic cemetery you will come upon the grave of two people who lived life in the shadows but now rest in God’s loving care. In a Catholic cemetery who you are and where you came from are no longer relevant. As Catholic cemetarians our corporal work of mercy is simply to bury the dead and the rest we place in God’s hands. In a Catholic cemetery, there is no quarrel with the dead. In our Catholic cemeteries we are granted the ability to see each other as God’s gift to one another without concern for status or station.

Each funeral procession arrives with family and friends grieving the loss of the person who will remain in this most sacred of places. We come as family united by an ancient and universal faith, a religion that teaches that this is a beginning not an end. We come each with different traditions but share in the same sacraments. We come each with different ideas and pastimes and yet with the same beliefs. We come together regardless of what makes us unique, to mourn the loss of a life lived and loved. Our differences wash away and we have only one purpose the Corporal Works of Mercy, to bury our loved one with dignity and honor.

Our Catholic cemeteries in the Diocese of Cleveland stand as a reminder that we are recipients of God’s mercy. Loved in life, we are united in death. We honor the value God has placed in creating each of us and acknowledge the beauty of our differences. We know that through our faith God will wash away the inequities of life and grant us eternal life free of intolerance.

Andrej N. Lah

President, CCA