Caritas coffin collection is not a Halloween gimick

Church's social action arm in the Philippines provides much-needed help for poor wanting to bury their dead
Caritas coffin collection is not a Halloween gimick

A man repaints a tomb in a public cemetery in Manila ahead of the annual observance of All Souls' Day on Nov. 2. Hundreds of thousands of Filipino Catholics visit the tomb of their loved ones starting Nov. 1, All Saints' Day, a national holiday in the Philippines. (Photo by Basilio Sepe)


This is not just a Halloween story. 

Collecting coffins and urns for the dead is a year-round activity for the social action arm of Manila Archdiocese.

Father Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, said they accept all types of coffins, whether they are "brand new" or "second hand."

"We are doing it to help the poor who are financially incapable of burying their dead," said the priest.

The church program dubbed "Caritas Damayan" has so far this year collected 50 coffins made of wood or stainless steel.

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"There are those who donated urns, but many donated coffins," said Father Pascual.

The priest said those in need can avail of the donated coffins and urns from the Caritas office in Manila.

"All they need to do is call us," said Father Pascual, adding that the program also helps poor people bury their dead with the help of the management of some cemeteries.

He said the assistance, which is estimated to cost up to US$200 includes a Mass for the dead.

The priest said those who want assistance will go through a screening process by the "social services development" ministry of the parish where the recipient belongs.

"Burying the dead is part of our corporal works of mercy," said Father Pascual.


Filipino beliefs, practices

The annual Filipino observance of "Undas," of Day of the Dead, brings to mind traditional beliefs and practices associated with death and burial among Filipinos.

The smashing of plates and the breaking of bottles when the remains of a person is taken out of a house is probably the most common. 

Father Eutiguio Belizar of Borongan Diocese in the central Philippines said people do it "to break the possible cycle of death."

There are also those who believe that a funeral procession passing by a dead person's house twice brings bad luck to the family. 

"It is not uncommon for a family to insist that a funeral Mass be held in another church or chapel," said the priest who heads the diocese's Commission on the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Belizar said most Filipino practices have no basis on reason or the teaching of the Catholic Church. He said giving in to "superstitious beliefs ... is a denial of true faith and worship."

The priest called on his fellow clerics to "tirelessly catechize" Catholics" and "pinpoint superstitions."


Alternative to Halloween

In Cabanatuan Diocese in the northern part of the Philippines, a "March of Saints" is being held on Nov. 1 as a "Catholic alternative" to Halloween parties.

"Instead of attending Halloween parties where people wear scary costumes, we encourage everyone to join the March of Saints where they can dress as saints," said Bishop Sofronio Bancud.

As to the Filipino practice of placing food and drinks on the tombs of the dead, the prelate said it is better to offer prayers and Masses that are "more beneficial" to the souls of the dead.

Bishop Bancud also reminded people who troop to cemeteries during what is a two-day national holiday "to maintain the holiness of cemeteries" and avoid making too much noise, drinking, and gambling.

The observance of "Undas," from the Spanish "andas," or Day of the Dead, was brought to the country by early Spanish friars.

The first two days of November are considered very important holidays by many Filipinos, after Christmas and Holy Week.

Remembering the dead and visiting their tombs in cemeteries during the first two days of November have become part of an annual Filipino tradition.

More than the offering of prayers and flowers and the lighting of candles, the two-day holiday has also become an occasion for family reunions where people spend a night or two in the cemetery.

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