Magazine article The Christian Century

Europeans Seek the Grave's Anonymity

Magazine article The Christian Century

Europeans Seek the Grave's Anonymity

Article excerpt

German church leaders are concerned about a trend sweeping their country, a land steeped in religious and cultural tradition: A growing number of people are choosing to be buried anonymously, without religious ritual or even a parting farewell from relatives. "The attitude toward dying and death has undergone remarkable changes during the last decade's, which simultaneously affects the culture of burial and mourning," Germanys Roman Catholic bishops wrote in a recent pastoral statement.

Time-honored traditions of funeral rites and assistance for mourners are vanishing, the bishops said. In the Catholic Church the most alarming example of two on going cultural shift is the enormous increase in anonymous burials, where the ashes of the deceased are placed underground in nondescript grass-covered areas. Most German cemeteries now have these kinds of burial grounds--collection spots for nameless ums.

Many of those seeking anonymous burials are Germans who are forgotten, lonely, suffering from AIDS, or are addicted to drugs or alcohol. In some regions of Germany up to half the population claims to prefer nameless burial to traditional funeral rites. "This lonely type of funeral often marks the end of a life that, for many years, the deceased themselves have regarded as burdensome and needless," noted Karl Lehmann, head of the bishops' conference.

In Lehmann's view, anonymous graves are an expression of the lack of relationships among the living as well as a lack of solidarity between the living and the dead. "People who never felt valued and loved during their lifetime have no interest in being remembered after death and no interest in possessing an individual memorial place," he said. From the Catholic Church's perspective, he-added, the trend toward anonymous burial also suggests that "the Christian belief in eternal life is dwindling."

In their statement, titled "Our Concern About the dead and the Bereaved," the bishops stressed that religious burial rites and the existence of named grave sites are an integral part of human culture. …

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