Comfortable with the dead

By Jessa Mae O. Sotto |November 02,2018 - 09:50 PM

The lone tree inside the St. Joseph Parish Cemetery, provides shade and comfort at a time of mourning.

Usahay madala sad ka sa emosyon. Tawo ra gud ta. Mao nga mopalayo lang sa mi ug dili mi moduol sa ilaha kon gahilak pa.

Unlike most times of the year, the St. Joseph Roman Catholic Cemetery in Mandaue City fills up with laughter on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

On both days, there are more smiles than tears as families and friends of the dead flock to the burial ground in a reunion of sorts.

According to Esmer Luscañas, caretaker of the cemetery, it is also the time of year when the graveyard fills up with both the dead and the
living.

“Ingon aron kalag-kalag kay samok na kaayo tungod sa daghang manuaw (It can get rowdy today because a lot of people come here to visit),“ said the 59-year-old caretaker as the smell of flowers and burnt candles filled the air.

Luscañas, has been working in the St. Joseph cemetery for about 18 years.

Although, the cemetery only allows visitors between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during ordinary days, the place opens for 24 hours during the holidays for people wanting to stay overnight.

Congested cemetery

The 900 square meter cemetery, managed by the National Shrine of St. Joseph, is located in Barangay Guizo, Mandaue City.

With its 3,556 niches built in vertical rows filled, the place is congested prompting the parish to deny acceptance of non-residents of Mandaue City and non-Catholics for burial there.

Parish clerk Lilia Cañete explained that non Catholics and non Mandaue City residents are referred to other cemeteries.

Aside from St. Joseph, there are three other cemeteries in Barangay Guizo: Mandaue City Municipal Cemetery, Grosmar Memorial Garden and Man Park.

Cañete said that only those baptized as Catholics are allowed to be buried in the St. Joseph Roman Catholic Cemetery.

 

To address the problem of congestion, the niches are recycled five years after a burial.

When the bodies have decomposed, they are moved to a communal burial ground or put in a bone chamber so the niche can be used again.

According to Cañete, it is the relatives of the dead who make the decision whether to move the bones into the common ground below the cemetery’s large cross or pay for a slot in the bone chamber which costs about P10,000.

The cost of burial inside the St. Joseph’s cemetery would range between P3,600 to P7,100 which includes the fee for the religious service done during the interment.

At least P300 of the amount goes to Luscañas who is not only the cemetery’s caretaker but also one of its grave diggers.

Cleaners-for-hire clean the graves in preparation for the All Saints’ Day and the All Souls’ Day at the St. Joseph Parish Cemetery.

Luscañas said that there are around 50 people buried in the Catholic cemetery each month.

He said that even though he has done the job for years, it was still painful to watch relatives mourning over the death of their loved ones.

“Usahay madala sad ka sa emosyon. Tawo ra gud ta. Mao nga mopalayo lang sa mi ug dili mi moduol sa ilaha kon gahilak pa (Sometimes we really get carried away by emotion because we are only human. That’s why we keep our distance while there are still people crying),” said Luscañas.

In his lifetime, Luscañas, who lived for years just outside the cemetery, has seen so many deaths.

But life, he said, is what you make of the “limited time” on earth.

When a person’s time has finally reached its end, Luscañas said his job is to ensure that the body would lie comfortably and peacefully inside the tomb.

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