Given the space crunch for burials in the city, the Archdiocese of Bombay began actively encouraging families this week to opt for burials in shrouds - a more economic and ecological alternative to the traditional wooden caskets.
The Catholic Communication Centre of the Archdiocese of Bombay on January 10 released a video explaining the economic and ecological advantages of such a burial. It also demonstrated the use of a metal coffin as compared with wooden ones, procured by chopping trees. The video is being strongly pushed on social media platforms.
In shroud burials, explains Father Nigel Barrett from the office of the Archdiocese of Bombay, the body is covered with cloth and buried, doing away with the need for a coffin. “It is an ancient practice of the Church. In fact, Christ was buried in a shroud.”
Father Barrett says it is the first time that the Archdiocese of Bombay is publicly encouraging shroud burials. However, he clarifies the archdiocese only recommends shroud burials; it’s not a compulsion.
FrAllwyn D’Silva, secretary of climate change, The Federation of Asian Bishops Conference, says “Shroud burials are more eco-friendly. It takes around three years for a body to decompose when it is buried in a coffin, whereas it takes around two years with a shroud burial. Also, we don’t need to cut down trees for wood to build coffins. Even the bodies - when buried without a coffin - decompose at a faster rate. We are moving away from customs, but not from the faith and the teachings of the church.”
Shroud burials are not alien to Mumbai Metropolitan Region. According to Father D’Silva, Thane and adjoining areas warmed up to shroud burials nearly 15 years ago.
The parishes of Vasai took the custom up nearly a decade ago. The practice has gained momentum over the last six years. “Now, nearly 100 per cent of the parishioners opt for shroud burials,” says Father Rajesh D’souza of St Joseph’s Church, Nalasopara, who has 2,500 parishioners under his wing.
Terming shroud burials an “excellent” idea, Dolphy D’souza, former president and current executive member of The Bombay Catholic Sabha, says it’s easier on the pockets as well. Coffins go for anywhere between R4,000 and Rs 25,000.
But, not everyone is enthused about the archdiocese’s recommendation. “If the church is really serious about shroud burials, then the priests themselves should lead by example,” says Archie Sodder, advocate and secretary of the Mumbai chapter of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC). “But, you don’t see any priest or cardinal coming ahead and announcing that he wants to be buried in shroud. Why is that so? It’s one policy for the masses and one for the classes.”
Melwyn Fernandes, another AOCC member, cautions that the recommendation is “easy to preach but difficult to practice”. “The archdiocese is selling land all over Mumbai and Thane to the BMC, but it is also citing environmental reasons for not using a coffin.”
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