Rest in Peace? Mumbai Runs Out of Space for Dead

Mumbai — Simple marble gravestones lie flat in the grounds of St Andrew’s Church in Bandra, one of the oldest Roman Catholic places of worship in the Indian city of Mumbai.

The names on the tombs bear witness to the city’s Portuguese heritage, as a groundsman sweeps wet leaves from generations of Da Silvas, D’Souzas, Pintos, Pereiras, Furtados and Fonsecas.

Behind the white-washed church, are newer, much smaller memorials, stacked on top of one another like drawers in a high perimeter wall bordering the sea.

Inside these “niches” are the mortal remains of the more recently deceased, whose bones have been disinterred and replaced by those who have died in the last year or two.

The spiralling cost of land and its lack of availability is a major issue for the estimated 18 million people crammed into India’s financial and entertainment capital.

But increasingly, the squeeze is affecting the city’s dead, prompting changes in centuries-old rituals, forcing up the cost of burials or leading to practical solutions to tackle space constraints.

“It’s an issue in all the churches. There’s a lack of space,” admitted Father Michael Goveas, a parish priest at St Andrew’s, where flattened tombstones are found even in the corridors leading to the main church.

“We’re no longer giving permission for permanent graves. Anyone who has a permanent (family) plot can still utilise them. For everyone else, we give niches,” he told AFP.

The lack of burial space, a growing problem for minority Christians and Muslims in India’s fast-growing big cities as well as many countries around the world, is particularly acute in Mumbai.

The local authorities estimate that there is just 1.3 square feet (0.12 square metres) of green open space per person, making it one of the most densely-populated places in the world.

One solution submitted last year to the US-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat suggested building a tower, with space for Christian and Muslim burials and Hindu cremations.

The idea’s thrust was that traditional solutions were unlikely to succeed, as older churches — and even the newer, state-run public cemeteries in outlying districts — stop providing graves in perpetuity.

“Cemeteries have a system where they don’t leave the bodies for more than two years. Then the bones are moved to an ossuary (charnel house),” said Father Anthony Charanghat, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Bombay.

One significant consequence of the space crunch is the increasing number of Catholics opting for cremation — the norm amongst Hindus — which was once viewed by the Church as a denial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“You used to have to get permission (to be cremated),” said Father Michael. “Now, it’s becoming more widespread… The idea that if you burn there’s no resurrection doesn’t exist any more.

“If you’re buried or burnt, it’s the same thing.”…

The above and rest here.


Ruined Somali Cathedral Offers Refuge to Drought-hit


Mogadishu — Beneath the soaring arches of the bombed out ruins of Mogadishu’s Roman Catholic cathedral, desperate families fleeing extreme drought and famine put up huts of rag and plastic for shelter.

Over 100,000 people have fled into Somalia’s famine-hit and war-torn capital in the past two months in search of food, water and medicine.

But with makeshift camps already overcrowded, hundreds have sought refuge in the crumbling shell of the cathedral, built by Italian colonial authorities in the 1920s but destroyed in years of bloody civil war.

“We had to leave our land, because all the animals died,” said Numur Moalim, who fled the drought-hit Bay region of southern Somalia, taking 15 days to trek into the dangerous capital with his wife and five children.

Huts are built on almost every space inside the cathedral, squeezed between giant chunks of masonry blasted from the still dramatic white stone building, while more huts are packed tight in the overgrown graveyard outside.

“I didn’t come because it was a church, but because I needed protection and shelter, and there was nowhere else to go,” Moalim said.

Sharp cracks of rifle fire ring out close by, with the sounds echoing in the high walls of the building, but Moalim does not flinch.

Shootings are common here, and heavily armed gunmen perched on top of pick-up trucks cruise the sandy streets nearby.

Instead, crouching on the rubble-strewn stone flags of the cathedral’s floor, Moalim tries to chip out holes to slot in thin branches for the poles of the hut.

“We have nothing, and my children cry because they are hungry, but I have not got food to give them,” he added, lifting up some of the plastic bags and small scraps of grubby material that will form the hut’s patchwork roof.

High up on the wall above his head a life-size stone statues of Jesus Christ and his disciples — their heads blasted with bullet holes — stare down on the crowded people struggling for survival below.

Islamic extremists — who still control much of southern and central Somalia and continue with a draconian ban on several foreign agencies — reportedly used the cathedral for target practice.

Conflict-wracked Somalia is the country hardest hit by the extreme drought affecting 12 million people across the Horn of Africa.

The United Nations has officially declared famine in Somalia for the first time this century, including in Mogadishu and four southern regions.

Despite a withdrawal earlier this month from the city by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels, government forces backed by African Union troops continue to struggle to secure one of the world’s most dangerous capitals.

“People died in my village — it was not a choice that we come here,” said Huwa Adan Ismail, from the famine-struck Lower Shabelle region.

“It has rained heavily in the last few nights, and there is no protection from the rain — it is so cold,” she added.

Some of her seven young children peer out from holes in their rag hut, while Ismail struggles to boil a saucepan of grain over an open fire beneath a pillar of the cathedral.

“We are not getting enough support,” said Mohamed Ahmed Ali, a community leader of the cathedral camp.

“People come and take assessments, and we see the aeroplanes coming in over our head to land, but we don’t get the food that they bring,” he added.


From the Gospel…

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.

Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”

He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.