Saginaw diocese buries the forgotten dead on All Souls' Day

Bishop Gress Saginaw All Souls Day Mass Nov 2 2019 Credit Catholic Diocese of Saginaw Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw processes from a Mass to the burial of the unclaimed remains of 175 people, at Calvary Cemetery in Kawkawlin, Mich., Nov. 2, 2019. | Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.

On Saturday Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw said a Mass of All Souls' Day for 175 people whose mortal frames had been unclaimed, and which were then buried at one of the diocese's cemeteries.

"The Church invites us to pray in a very special way, give alms and do works of penance for all the deceased, for our loved ones and friends, but also for all those who have died whom we have never known. There are many who have no one to pray for them," Bishop Gruss preached during the Nov. 2 Mass at Calvary Cemetery in Kawkawlin, Mich., about 20 miles north of Saginaw.

"This is why we gather today in this special way for this memorial service for these unclaimed cremains. These individuals have no one to pray for them. They have not received a burial proper to their human dignity. But we will doing this today, giving these men, women and children a proper burial."

The cremated bodies of 175 people were entombed in a crypt at the cemetery. Their remains had been in a county medical examiner's office or funeral homes, and while some of the people had died quite recently, the oldest remains were of someone who died in 1972. Among those whose remains were entombed were 13 veterans, and military honors were presented by the Bay County Veterans Council Honor Guard.

"These individuals, these children of God, we know very little about. We know their names, but we know very little about them. But we do know that their lives have value; in the eyes of God and in our eyes, they belong to Him," Bishop Gruss reflected.

"We are here today to show our love and care and concern for our brothers and sisters by upholding their God given dignity and providing them a final resting place where they will be remembered."

The bishop noted that those who were being buried after the Mass "have all been part of a family. Why their cremains have been left behind is unknown to me. Though their lives remain a mystery to all of us, every aspect of their lives, every experience of their lives is known [to] God … And in the mystery of Christ's love, they too have been offered salvation because it is God's will that all people will be saved."

Bishop Gruss began his homily saying, "the Church has always promoted the praying for our deceased loved ones and teaches the value of this practice. Oftentimes people make the assumption that their loved one is automatically going to heaven. We can never presume anything such as this.Yes, it is God's will that all people are saved, but the ultimate judgment belongs to God and not to us. We can only live in hope that heaven becomes a reality for our loved onesand for us by the way we live our lives. If heaven were automatic, why would the Church need to pray for their deceased loved ones?"

He added that "we gather here today to pray for all of our loved ones who have gone before us. We gather here today to pray for these men, women and children whom we will lay rest."

Alice Lefevre, Cemeteries Director for the Diocese of Saginaw, noted ahead of the interment that "Our Lord instructs us to bury the dead. It is a corporal work of mercy."

The diocese reported that the students of St. Brigid of Kildare Catholic School in Midland held a "penn war" to raise money for expenses associated with the burials, raising more than $500, which was used for memorial flowers, among other things.

According to MLive, the diocese reached an agreement with Saginaw County in August that it will inter any cremated remains accumulated by the county.

The county controller, Robert Belleman, says he contacted the diocese to see if they could assist with proper burial of the cremated remains of 47 people which were held at the county medical examiner's office.

"We really appreciate that willingness by the Diocese of Saginaw to agree to properly bury these 47 cremains," Belleman told MLive.

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