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Catholic churches plan more space for ashes after Vatican ruling

By Cate McCurry

Published 28/10/2016

Catholics in Northern Ireland are increasingly using sacred spots in churches to store cremated remains, while many congregations have plans in place to meet rising demand
Catholics in Northern Ireland are increasingly using sacred spots in churches to store cremated remains, while many congregations have plans in place to meet rising demand

Catholics in Northern Ireland are increasingly using sacred spots in churches to store cremated remains, while many congregations have plans in place to meet rising demand.

The news comes after the Vatican said ashes should not be scattered but instead be stored in a sacred, church-approved place.

Earlier this week, it said ashes are not to be kept at home, distributed at a special spot, turned into jewellery or put in a locket.

Instead, 'columbariums' are to be used, with the ashes of those who choose to be cremated kept on the church's property.

The name refers to the site and public storage of urns containing a deceased Catholic's cremated remains.

The cost of each urn niche is £900.

The term comes from the Latin columba, or dove, originally referring to a shelter for doves or pigeons.

They have become increasingly popular across Northern Ireland because of the difficulty in finding space in cemeteries and new land for graveyards.

It is understood there are currently four columbariums, including St Joseph's Church in Hannahstown and St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast.

In a new document released before All Souls' Day on November 2 - when the faithful are supposed to pray for and remember the dead - the Vatican also said that Catholics who insist on the scattering of their ashes should be denied a Christian funeral.

Parishioners who have a strong connection to their church can chose to be cremated and their remains kept within the church grounds.

The columbarium in St Patrick's was opened in December 2012 and dedicated to St Joseph.

Located at the front left-hand side of the church, it provides a sacred space where family members can visit and pray.

On the church's website it states that the deceaseds' remains are "in a place intimately linked to Christ and the celebration of the Sacraments".

It is comprised of a series of vaults, each dedicated to a well-loved saint or object of popular devotion. The first phase consists of three vaults including St Joseph, St Brigid and St Therese.

These vaults hold 160, 168 and 168 urns respectively.

The second phase consists of two vaults, dedicated to the Sacred Heart and St Anthony. These were installed in early 2016 and have already attracted high demand.

Consideration is being given to the installation of a third vault in the near future. Columbariums are usually found in the grounds of the church cemeteries.

Requiem Mass can also be celebrated with the ashes present.

The Church encourages placement of ashes in a final resting place and permits cremation as long as the ashes are not divided or scattered and the ashes are not kept in someone's living room or any home.

Fr Edward McGee, spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor, said a number of parishes are considering creating the sacred spaces.

He said that the Bishop's Conference taking place next month will discuss the establishment of more columbariums in the grounds of cemeteries owned by Catholic parishes.

Belfast Telegraph

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