Despite church’s nod, cremation still a rarity amongst Catholics in Kerala

Only two Catholic Christians from Kerala have been (reportedly) cremated till today in the state
Despite church’s nod, cremation still a rarity amongst Catholics in Kerala
Despite church’s nod, cremation still a rarity amongst Catholics in Kerala
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 On August 16, PC Baby, a retired professor from the National Institute of Technology Kozhikode, was cremated, two days after his death.
Baby’s death became a headline in Kerala as he was the first Catholic Christian to be cremated in the state ever since the Synod of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church announced in August 2014 that bishops of various dioceses could permit cremation of the dead.
Though the Syro Malabar church with 31 dioceses made the announcement only last year, the Catholic Church had lifted ban on cremation worldwide in 1963 itself.
The revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 made it clear that the church allowing cremation should not be considered an endorsement, but the practice however became popular amongst Christians in Western countries owing to space crunch and increasing costs of burials.
In spite of the 1963 order, Kerala had only one reported case of cremation before Baby’s.
The first was in 2007, Dominic Joseph a businessman from Kochi, was cremated in the month of August.
Mathrubhumi reports that Baby had been requesting his family for years that his body should be cremated, and not buried. A year ago he reportedly approached the Bishop seeking permission to cremate his body and the Bishop granted permission.
“As per Catholic Law the body will be given for cremation after all the prayer rituals are completed by the church. The family is allowed to collect the ashes after cremation. The relatives can take these ashes to keep it with them or Church will provide facilities to store the ashes,” said Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church spokesperson Fr. Paul Thalekkat.
Fr. Thalekkat says that though the Kerala church allows cremation, it is more as a solution to help people unable to find burial plots.
“Church prefers burial, but if situation demands, there is provision in the law.”
“If a person wants his body to be cremated after death, he or his family members can approach their local diocese bishop for permission,” says Fr. Thalekkat.
He said that in Baby and Joseph’s case, the deceased themselves had taken prior permission from the church.
“In both the cases, they had approached the respective Bishop much before their death seeking permission for cremation. Now, their ashes have been preserved in cemeteries with due respect,” he adds.
However, Pentecostal Mission and Brethren Church still consider cremation as a taboo.
“It is against Christianity, we cannot imagine cremating our bodies. It is a taboo, unless there is a genuine reason,” says Joseph George, Chief Pastor at Indian Pentecostal Church.
The Catholic World Magazine reports that nearly one third of American Catholic believers opt for cremation, due to lower cost, changing attitudes about cremation, and ease of transporting remains.
According to the 2001 census, 19% of Kerala’s population are Christians, but unlike in other countries, Catholic Christians in the state do not seem to be in favour of cremation.
Catholic Law
In 1963 the Vatican had lifted the existing cremation ban among the Catholics.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) describes the permission for catholic cremation as, “Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body.The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites" (no. 413).
The Canon law also allows cremation, provided the deceased person was following the faith in an absolute sense. The law also says that if a person demands cremation because of his lack of faith in Christianity, the Church can deny permission.
It also said in the law that the cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body.

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