Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Trichur leads prayers on Feb. 8 in his archdiocese in Kerala state as part of laying a foundation stone for a crematorium, reportedly the first such Catholic facility in India. (Photo: Facebook)
India’s first Catholic crematorium is being built in a southern archdiocese as the faithful are asked to shed the burial tradition for a cheap and environmentally friendly method.
Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Trichur and senior priests laid the foundation stone for Damian Archdiocesan Cremation Center on Feb. 8 in Trichur district in Kerala state.
The crematorium is “the need of the time,” Archbishop Thazhath said during the ceremony, recalling several Catholics have opted to cremate relatives who died from the Covid-19 pandemic.
He encouraged Catholics to take full advantage of “cost-effective” cremation rather than sticking with the old tradition of burial.
Archbishop Thazhath was the first in India to allow cremation of Catholics who died of Covid-19 and bury the ashes in their respective parish cemeteries.
However, several Catholics opposed the move, saying the Church was adopting a Hindu religious ritual and appealing for it to stick with the Catholic tradition of burial.
Hindus, the majority religious group in India, mostly cremate their dead and as part of their beliefs immerse the ashes in rivers they consider as holy for the repose of the departed soul.
Several dioceses allow cremation of Covid-19 victims in parish cemeteries. However, no diocese has reported setting up a permanent crematorium.
“Cremation is a very environment-friendly, hygienic and cost-effective method,” said Father Simson Chiramel, director of Damian Institute, a leprosy rehabilitation center and hospital in Mulayam where the new electric crematorium is being built.
“We have already cremated 29 persons who died of Covid-19 on our campus. The pandemic has changed our life and its perspectives,” Father Chiramel told UCA News on Feb. 12.
“It is time we adopted a more convenient method to dispose of the bodies of our dear ones.”
He said cremation is better than burial primarily because cemeteries have no space. “Many parishes are finding it hard to get land for cemeteries,” he said.
The maximum expense for cremating a body is less than 5,000 rupees (US$70) while digging a normal tomb costs at least 7,000 rupees.
If the grave is converted into a permanent concrete family tomb, the minimum expense will be five times that of the cremation, the priest said.
Some Kerala parishes charge more than 100,000 rupees ($1,400) for building a family tomb inside a cemetery.
Father Chiramel said burying ashes in a parish cemetery “requires very little space compared to a tomb.”
He said the Catholic Church allows cremation with a rider that ashes should not be scattered at sea or in a river, nor kept at home, but buried in a place like a cemetery.
"Cremation is nothing new in the Catholic Church and is commonly practiced in many European countries,” Father Chiramel said.
“The Church permits cremation provided it is not done to demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”