The casket carrying the ashes of Sister Ajaya Mary, reportedly the first nun to be cremated in India, is kept in a church in New Delhi on July 3 for prayers before it was transported to her native Kerala for interning in a cemetery. (Photo supplied)
Ashes of the first Indian Catholic nun to be cremated were interned in her congregation’s cemetery in Kerala state on July 7, five days after she died of Covid-19 in New Delhi.
Sister Ajaya Mary, the Delhi provincial of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, died on July 2 in the church-run Holy Family Hospital in Delhi. She was 67.
Bishop Paul Mullassery of Quilon celebrated a requiem Mass with some 20 people in strict compliance with Covid-19 protocols. He later led ceremonies interning the nun's mortal remains in the vault of the congregation’s private cemetery.
The Delhi administration did not allow her body to be transported to Kerala. It could not be buried in the city’s cramped Christian cemeteries because of the administration’s protocols.
The government took away the nun's body and cremated her at a state crematorium on the day she died.
Church sources said the nun is believed to be the first Catholic nun to be cremated in India, and arguably the first in the Catholic Church’s history.
Sister Gaily Mary, one of two two nuns who attended her cremation, told UCA News on July 6 that “it was so painful for me to imagine a final journey without the presence of near and dear ones like an unknown person.”“The officials took the body to the crematorium and placed it on a box at 12 noon. At around 5pm, we were given the ashes and a few bones in an iron basket,” she said.
The ashes were brought to Kollam, formerly Quilon, on July 4 by a passenger flight. They were placed in the headquarters of the indigenous congregation in Kollam town.
The deceased nun had suffered from acute pneumonia since February and it worsened with the Covid-19 infection, leading to her death.
“None of her family members, friends and other well-wishers could meet her and pray with her before death. It is really unfortunate,” Sister Gaily said.
Sister Mary “dedicated her life to the poor and the needy. She had so many friends. But there was no one around her even to offer her a dignified burial,” Sister Gaily said.
Sister Judy Mary, a sister of the deceased nun, told UCA News on July 6 that the situation offered her congregation a chance to share the pain of ordinary people.
“We need to take it positively. We got a chance to share a problem the entire world is facing now. People are suffering and facing a difficult situation like this, and what we got is our share. So we have no complaint,” she said.
Catholics in India prefer burial to cremation, considered a Hindu way of disposing of bodies.
Church laws do not prohibit cremation, and several dioceses have allowed cremation after some city administrations in India introduced stricter norms for burial.
For example, Covid-19 protocols demand graves to be 10 feet deep and prohibit placing bodies on concrete vaults. Most Christian cemeteries are cramped, making it is practically impossible to cut a grave of 10 feet without disturbing nearby graves.
The archdioceses of Bombay and Trissur have allowed Covid-19 victims to be cremated and their ashes buried in their respective parish cemeteries later.