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Novena at virtual cemetery helps parishioners prayerfully remember the dead

Parish in Washington state sets up crosses to represent deceased family members who may be buried in cemeteries that are far away

Ellen Joslin, right, faith formation catechist at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Vancouver, Wash., explained the virtual cemetery to parish children as they joined parishioner Judy Fairbanks at the cross honoring her husband Randy, who died in April.
Photo Credits: Photo courtesy St. John the Evangelist Parish via Northwest Catholic
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Neat rows of 220 white crosses, decorated with bright candles and beautiful flowers and bearing the names of deceased loved ones, are the focal point for the All Souls’ novena at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Vancouver.

For nine evenings leading up to All Souls’ Day Nov. 2, parishioners have been gathering in the parish courtyard amid the crosses of their virtual cemetery to pray the Rosary in English and Spanish.

“Praying a bilingual novena, the same Rosary at the same time, is so powerful,” said Father Alfredo Velazquez, priest administrator at St. John.

Father Velazquez, who is from the Archdiocese of Guadalajara, Mexico, came up with the idea of a virtual cemetery as a pastoral initiative. Inviting parishioners to place the names of their loved ones on the crosses is an opportunity for them “to remember (and) pray for the eternal rest of their beloved,” he said.

Lori Jimerson, St. John’s pastoral assistant for administration, said many of their parishioners have immigrated or traveled to the U.S., leaving loved ones behind. And many parishioners have lost loved ones since arriving here and could not return home, Father Velazquez said.

“They cannot travel back to their loved one’s gravesite and pray and decorate,” Jimerson said.

About half of St. John’s parishioners are Spanish speakers.

“We’re Hispanic, so it’s tradition remembering the ones who passed away,” said Yarely Duran, the parish receptionist who prints and laminates the name affixed to each cross. “It’s a special day for them.”

In the second year of this prayerful remembrance, the courtyard crosses and novena are becoming a welcome tradition, one that helps families heal, Father Velazquez said. It’s also an opportunity to practice the spiritual works of mercy, share culture and educate a younger generation about tradition, he said.

Deceased loved ones were remembered with a special display at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Vancouver, Wash.
Photo Credits: Photo courtesy St. John the Evangelist Parish via Northwest Catholic
Inside St. John Church, Father Velazquez said, there is a table to place photographs of deceased loved ones to remember and pray for them. In addition, the parish’s bereavement committee provides a shroud with the written names of loved ones who have died.

In the courtyard, volunteers created an “altar for the souls” decorated with the crosses, flowers, banners and lights, and there is a memorial altar with the names of priests in the archdiocese who died in the past year.

Photos and videos from the novena are posted on the parish’s Facebook page, where several people have left comments:

“Muy hermoso! Que nuestros difuntos estén siempre en nuestras oraciones para que puedan así alcanzar la gloria de Dios …en paz descansen,” Liz Delao wrote which translates: “Very beautiful! May our deceased be always in our prayers so that they may thus attain the glory of God. Rest in peace.”

A cultural event with music, dancing and sharing of stories and poems took place Oct. 30. The novena continued through the feast of All Saints on Nov. 1.

On Nov. 2, “The Day of Souls, where we express our faith in eternal life, we celebrate with joy,” Father Velazquez said. “It’s a moment when we express our belief (the deceased) are alive in Jesus Christ.”

Pope: Showing love, mercy are key to entering heaven

By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As Christians await their death and the final judgment of God, the Gospel tells them what they must do to be welcomed into heaven: love others because God is love, Pope Francis said.

In life “we are in the waiting room of the world,” hoping to hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father,” the pope said during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 2, the feast of All Souls.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass with special prayers for the nine cardinals and 148 archbishops and bishops from around the world who died between Oct. 30, 2021, and Oct. 17 this year, including 14 bishops from the United States and four from Canada.

The Gospel reading at the Mass was St. Matthew’s description of the last judgment when those who fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger and visited the prisoner are welcomed into God’s kingdom, and those who neglected to care for others are sent into “the eternal fire.”

While praying for those who have died, he said, the feast day also is a call to “nurture our expectation of heaven” and question whether one’s strongest desires are for union with God or for earthly status and pleasures that will pass away. But the Gospel of Matthew makes clear what will last, he said: love and care for others, especially the poor and those usually discarded by society.

The previous day, the feast of All Saints, Pope Francis said that the saints were not “starched,” picture-perfect conformists; they were “countercultural and revolutionary.”

The multitude of men and women honored on the feast of All Saints lived according to the Eight Beatitudes, which made them decidedly out of place in the world, Pope Francis said Nov. 1 before reciting the Angelus prayer.

With thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis also encouraged people not only to visit the burial sites of their loved ones on the feast of All Souls, but to go to Mass and pray for them as well.

Talking about saints and the day’s Gospel reading of the beatitudes, Pope Francis focused particularly on “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

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