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Chicago Catholics bury the remains of indigent adults and unborn babies in annual ceremony

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The remains of over 200 people were blessed and laid to rest in a Catholic cemetery in Chicago last week, continuing a tradition that brings together clergy, civic leaders, funeral directors, and cemetery workers to provide a Christian burial for unborn babies and indigent or unidentified adults.

“We come here to mourn the loss of 202 souls, 202 people, God’s children, who were in need of a sense of compassion in the world,” Father Lawrence Sullivan, director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, said at the Oct. 26 service at Mount Olivet Cemetery on Chicago’s south side.

“It is all our responsibility to take notice of when there is suffering, to take notice of when there is need, of when we can use the gifts given to us by God in service of one another,” Sullivan said.

“We do so in the firm belief that these 202 souls have now been returned to the presence of God, where they will know the fullness of God’s peace, the fullness of God’s love.”

Sullivan led Catholic funeral rites for the bodies of 39 unborn babies and the cremated remains of 163 indigent people, which were to be interred at the cemetery. Auxiliary Bishop Andrew P. Wypych, the episcopal vicar of the area, blessed the remains.

Area funeral directors and other volunteers accompanied each person’s remains until the burials were completed, according to a media brief from the archdiocese. Groups of students from several Catholic high schools also attended the ceremony.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office is responsible for the remains of the indigent or unidentified deceased and fetal remains. The Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries helps to provide burials as a public service. The Cook County Funeral Directors Association, Worsham College of Mortuary Science, and Malcolm X College all helped with the burial effort.

Since 2012 the archdiocese’s Catholic cemeteries have hosted more than 30 group burials to help lay to rest 4,484 people: 1,496 unborn babies and 2,988 adults. Some of the indigent adults were homeless and some were unidentified.

“These are sisters and brothers. These are extended family members,” Sullivan said. “We not only remember these souls who have returned to God but all who are suffering, all who are feeling alienated, all who are feeling alone.”

Sullivan encouraged those present to commit to doing everything they can to help others and “to recognize the face of God not only in the beauty of nature but in the faces of all those who we meet.”

He prayed to God: “Have mercy on your children as we entrust them to you. Console the hearts of those who mourn in the hope that all who trust in you will find eternal peace and rest.”

The prayers of the faithful asked God that he forgive the sins of those who died, that he remember all the good they have done, and that he welcome them into eternal life.

“We pray especially for those who have died before birth, and those who are known to God alone,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “We pray for those who mourn. Comfort them in their grief.”

The funeral rite included a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

Sullivan thanked county commissioners, elected officials, county employees, funeral workers, cemetery staff, and others who helped with the burials.

“Your efforts have allowed us to be of service to these, our neighbors, seeing the face of God in each one of them, and to perform the most sacred corporal work of mercy, and our combined mission: to bury the dead,” he said.

Cardinal Francis George began the burial tradition and led prayers for the first burials. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also has presided at committal ceremonies.

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Chicago Catholics bury the remains of indigent adults and unborn babies in annual ceremony