FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust

Gainesville, Florida

By Steve Johnson

“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”

Its origins come from Genesis 3:19 (King James Verison): “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

We celebrate death in so many different ways. From sky burials in Tibet, to hanging coffins in ancient China, how we honor the dead is varied and changing.

In the United States and Canada, vault burials have grown in popularity since the early 1900s. With more than 19,000 funeral homes and 8,000 embalmers in the U.S. alone according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

So when Reuters contacted me about a conservation cemetery, one of four in the country, I was intrigued with the very niche market.

After more than two months of research and repeated visits to the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, we found a source willing to work with us to document this process. Working on such a sensitive subject, it is hard not to feel for your source. Joseph Fitzgerald died at age 47 -- just days after his granddaughter was born.

Hong Kong funeral expo shows new ways to deal with the dead

(A TV journalist tries a coffin during Asia Funeral Expo (AFE) in Hong Kong May 19, 2011/Bobby Yip)

For the seven million citizens of Hong Kong, living comfortably in the one of the world’s most densely populated cities is difficult enough, but dying presents is own set of challenges. Around 43,700 people died in the territory in 2010. By 2020 that number is expected to rise to almost 53,000. A majority will be cremated, since land shortages forced most people to abandon burials in the 1980s and cremations became acceptable.

But now the city’s public columbarium, where relatives can keep ashes in an urn in a 30 cm (one foot) crevice in a wall, has run out of space. As a result, Hong Kong residents have been forced to store their loved ones’ remains in funeral homes, privately-run storage facilities, or their own homes.

Paris death salon shows life and new trends in funeral industry

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(A television journalist speaks to camera as she tests a coffin on show at the 'Salon de la Mort' -- Salon of Death -- in Paris April 7, 2011/Charles Platiau)

“Care to try out the coffin?” Surprised but intrigued, the young man lays himself down on the ivory satin fabric and holds his breath as the heavy lid closes over him. At the Salon of Death, everything is permitted.

For the first time in Paris, death is the star at a free exhibition taking place underneath the famed Louvre museum.

A Buddhist burial in the rain for Japanese tsunami victims

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(At a funeral in Kassenuma town, Miyagi prefecture March 26, 2011/Carlos Barria)

Ten flimsy wooden coffins were laid on two sturdy rails at a hastily prepared cemetery of mostly mud as Keseunnuma began burying its dead from the tsunami that ripped apart the Japanese coastal city. Desperate municipalities such as Kesennuma have been digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are almost always cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.

The number of dead in Kesennuma was 551 as of Saturday, far too many for local crematoriums that can typically manage about 10 bodies a day but are now facing shortages of kerosene. Another 1,448 in the city of about 74,000 are missing from the tsunami two weeks ago that has left more than 27,500 people dead or missing across Japan.

Egyptian Copts hold funeral after Christian-Muslim strife kills 13

copt coffins

(Egyptian Coptic Christians gather for funeral of seven victims of sectarian clashes, at Samaan el-Kharaz Church in Cairo March 10, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Thousands of Egyptian Christians attended an emotional funeral service on Thursday for people killed in the worst Christian-Muslim violence since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power. Six coffins lay by a church altar during the ceremony, victims of the violence on Tuesday in which 13 people were killed and 140 wounded. A seventh coffin arrived later. Some held aloft signs with slogans that included: “No to sectarianism, no to murder,” and “Farewell to the martyrs of Christ.”

“We will sacrifice our souls and our blood for the cross,” a crowd of mourners chanted at the end of the service as they poured out of the Samaan al-Kharaz Church, built in a cave above the Cairo slum of Manshiet Nasr.  It was not clear how many of the dead from Tuesday’s violence were Christian and how many Muslim.

Lasers and iPods for a Singapore funeral of a lifetime

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An Ipod Touch can control the lighting, sound and smoke machines used in the funeral ceremony at the columbarium, May 15, 2010/Edgar Su

Death need not be a grim affair, especially for the living. At a new columbarium in Singapore, the deceased can depart, rock concert style.  Unlike most traditional Buddhist funeral ceremonies that follow cremation, there is no incense and no monks offering prayers at the Nirvana Memorial Garden columbarium, where the urns holding the remains of the dead are stored. columbarium 1

A demonstration of a Buddhist funeral ceremony at the columbarium, May 15, 2010/Edgar Su

Hindu wins battle for funeral pyre in Britain

Davender Ghai outside of Britain's High Court in London, 18 Jan 2010/Toby Melville

Davender Ghai outside of Britain's High Court in London, 18 Jan 2010/Toby Melville

A devout Hindu declared himself “overjoyed” on Wednesday after winning a court fight to be allowed to be cremated in Britain on an open-air funeral pyre.

Spiritual healer Davender Ghai, 71, was granted his last wish by the Court of Appeal which ruled the controversial ceremony could be carried out without a change in the law, which prohibits the burning of human remains anywhere outside a crematorium.

Poll – Should Ted Kennedy have a Catholic funeral?

kennedyOur post “Catholic comments on Ted Kennedy, pro and con” showed readers were deeply split on whether the late senator should have a Roman Catholic funeral. The naysayers argued that his support for choice on abortion and other disagreements with Church doctrine disqualify him from a religious ceremony. Those for a church funeral argued that he helped advance many causes championed by Catholic social teaching.

Those opposing a Mass of Christian Burial for Kennedy predominated, but not all readers take the time to write a comment. One-click poll questions sometimes give a different picture from comment pages. So here’s a simple question:

poll by twiigs.com (Photo: Ted Kennedy in the Senate, 8 Jan 2009/Larry Downing)

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from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Israel’s burial crisis and the afterlife

Far from the spotlight of peace talks and military conflicts, Israel is facing a different kind of land crisis: it is running out of space to bury its dead. Most Jewish cemeteries in major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, are filled beyond maximum capacity. Gravestones are packed together leaving little room for mourners to gather.

Cemeteries in Israel are packed with graves. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

You can read about a new system of multi-tiered burial chambers being used in the Jewish state to solve the issue of land. It's actually an ancient system, used thousands of years ago by Jewish sages, that was modernised by two Israeli architects and given approval by the country's chief rabbis. Ancient Sanhedrin Tombs Modernised Multi-Tier System

Ancient Sanhedrin tombs and their modern-day revival

Adding to the problem of dwindling burial space for Israelis, each year about 1,500 Jews from around the world choose the Holy Land for their final resting place. For some, the choice could come from the allure of being buried in the Jewish state. For others, it stems from the Bible. And you can always find some group that offers to help make it happen.

Funeral may show if Michael Jackson converted to Islam

jackson-niqab

One of the many rumours that swirled around Michael Jackson in the final years of his life was that he had secretly converted to Islam and taken the name Mikaeel. The “King of Pop” does not seem to have spoken about this publicly himself, and that scene in Bahrain when he went shopping badly disguised in an Arab woman’s abaya could be put down to his well-known penchant for dressing up. So unless there is some statement in his will or documentary evidence in his estate, his funeral expected this week may be the last time to test whether this rumour has any basis in fact. (Photo: Veiled Jackson greets security guard as he enters shopping mall in Manama, Bahrain with veiled child, 25 Jan 2006/Hamad Mohammed)

The Jacksons are Jehovah’s Witnesses and could be expected to bury Michael in the tradition of that faith. When he announced the death, his brother Jermaine — a Muslim — ended with the words: “May Allah be with you, Michael, always.” Jermaine said in 2007 he was trying to convince Michael to convert.

The post-mortem period hasn’t looked very Muslim so far. Traditions vary, but in Islamic funeral practices in general, autopsies and cremation are out and the body should be buried quickly, usually in a day or two. Jackson is reported to have asked for cremation in his will and his family has asked for a second autopsy after the first one failed to pinpoint the cause of death without long toxicology tests.