The rise of columbaries

A COLUMBARIUM, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a structure of vaults lined with recesses for cinerary urns.” In times past, it would have been unthinkable for a Catholic church to have a columbarium within its premises. This is because the Catholic Church frowned on cremation.

The reason for this is that certain beliefs cremated their dead because they believed there is no life after death, according to Cebu Archbishop Jose S. Palma, D.D. Times have changed, though, and the Church in the 1960s relaxed its ruling on cremation, and more and more people in Cebu are opting to have the remains of their loved ones cremated. To accommodate this trend, even some Catholic churches have incorporated columbaries in the church structure or within the church grounds.

Among the earliest to do so was the Parish of the Alliance of Two Hearts in Banawa, Cebu City, with a columbarium at its basement. Saint Joseph Parish in Mabolo, Cebu City, added a columbarium at the back of the church. And recently, the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus along D. Jakosalem St., Cebu City and the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish along Escario St., Cebu City, built their own columbaries within their complex. Even the San Pedro Calungsod Parish at Pulangbato, Cebu City, still undergoing construction, has incorporated a columbarium at its basement in its architectural plan. Some memorial parks also have columbaries, like the Cebu Memorial Park which has a columbarium each niche of which can contain up to 15 urns or the bone remains of five persons, according to Felisa Y. Chiongbian.

If more people are opting to have their loved ones cremated, the reasons are simple: Cemeteries are getting crowded and during All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, it can be quite a hassle to visit one’s beloved dead because of the traffic, both motorized and pedestrian. Also, in all that crowd, it can be hard to commune with one’s beloved dead and to relive memories. Then, there’s the cost factor: It is much cheaper to buy a niche in a columbarium than it is to buy a plot in a memorial park and there’s very little, if any, maintenance cost. Also, in church or municipal cemeteries, there is a limit as to how long the remains of a person can stay, after which the bones have to be transferred either to an ossuary (a bone chamber for the dead) or a columbarium, or if the surviving relative cannot afford either option, in a common grave.

The Catholic Church, in relaxing its rules about cremation, has guidelines for the care of the ashes. It frowns on distributing the ashes to the sea or mountain or wherever one stipulates in one’s will, or in dividing the ashes among relatives. It also frowns on keeping the ashes at home. The Church wants the ashes of the dead to be given due respect and placed where they should ideally be, in a columbarium, be it in a church or in a memorial park.

Surely one’s beloved dead deserves that respect.


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