DOMINICAN REPUBLIC | Deacon Carlos Solá of St. James Cathedral and Father Fred Ruse, joined Deacons Yadil Díaz and Nilson Delgado as they concelebrated Mass in four cemeteries in the nine communities of Las Lomas where the Diocese of Orlando serves as missionaries to our sister Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana.
“As the years go by, in a fashion, the character of the celebrations has changed,” said Father Ruse who served the mission region for more than a decade. “I noticed especially in Los Guayuyos this year, that there were so many more people participating and arriving with so many flowers to put on all the graves. There was considerably more solidarity.” That cemetery serves three communities: Los Guayuyos, El Recodo and La Cueva.
During each Mass, the names of the deceased are read aloud, then each person is invited to share the names of others who may have been missed, including those of long ago. Then the deacons faithfully go to every tomb and bless it with holy water as those mourners sing.
“I think we started the practice in 2009 and at that time, the cemeteries were poorly maintained even though it was the responsibility of the local political leader to care for the cemetery by cutting back weeds and establishing/maintaining fences or walls,” recalled Father Ruse. “None of that was done. We usually went in the day before (November 1) to clean the cemetery ahead of the Mass.” Today, he sees a visible transformation, which is ongoing.
“Maintenance is beginning and walls are being established; the spaces are being given more respect; still a long way to go but this is a quantum leap,” he noted. “More and more people come to the Masses well prepared with bouquets of flowers to place at the graves; children arriving with handfuls of flowers for more than graves of their own families, but all the graves. It is… a time for renewed consolation in the case of a recent death or some from years before.”
Father Ruse notices more families erecting mausoleums or pouring cement slabs over the graves to protect them. “There is clearly a new attention to the deceased and a new way of embracing grieving and consolation.” He added, “I am confident that these celebrations, little by little, introduce a more Christian, hope and faith-filled experience of death, sadness and loss. Prior it was often probably more akin to burying an animal in a field, certainly with a very human sadness and grief, but absent anything akin to what the Resurrection tells us about ourselves and creation as the Gospel proclaims.”
At the same time, the day marked the beginning of the surgical missions at the foot of the mountain, in San Juan. The significance of the two simultaneous events was not lost on the retired priest. As missionary doctors, nurses and volunteers helped heal and restore their brothers and sisters to health, those in the hills honored those they lost, recalling the ultimate destination of all believers. The medical missions pointed to the frailty and temporal aspects of life, while the All Souls celebration was a reminder of an eternal one.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic November 19, 2019