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Guidelines on cremation off kilter in Asia

TAIPEI (UCAN): New guidelines published by the Vatican on October 25 concerning the resting places of the dead are causing some unease and even dilemmas in and around Asia, as the guidelines, To Rise with Christ (Ad resurgendum cum Christo), advocate that the deceased should be treated with respect and laid to rest in consecrated ground.

They also express a preference for burial of the body in the ground, listing cremation as a non-preferred option, although in most parts of Asia it is no longer an option, but compulsory.

However, with cremation, the Church encourages people to keep the ashes together and place the urns in mausoleums or specially designed resting places on Church property.

“To avoid any form of pantheistic, naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, it is not permitted to scatter ashes in the air, on earth, in water or in any other way, or to convert the cremated ashes into any form of commemorative item,” the instruction says.

But it discourages a common practice in Japan and Taiwan of keeping them at home, scattering them at sea or spreading them around gardens or natural environments.

However, the government in Taiwan is actively encouraging what it calls a more eco-friendly approach and in May this year designated 29 locations inside public cemeteries, as well as two others, for what it terms eco-friendly natural burials, where the ashes are scattered among the trees and flower gardens.

The Ministry for the Interior in Taipei, which is responsible for cemeteries says, “They have replaced the dark, cold, stony tombs with the beautiful natural landscape. It not only maintains the cycle of ecology, but also reduces the cost of unnecessary and elaborate rituals and formalities.”

Since the government began its campaign in 2002 to reduce the number of burials on the island, more than 16,000 people have opted for alternative funeral methods, such as what local media calls tree or flower burial.

Father Otfried Chan, the secretary general of the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, said that the Vatican instructions are based only on doctrine rather than looking at the matter from a cultural or economic standpoint.

He said that they describe the best choice as being burial and describe cremation only as a compromise for highly populous Asian countries.

He also added that he does not think that the government approach is particularly environmentally-friendly anyway.

Countries the world over, including Hong Kong have been struggling with finding space for cemeteries or mausoleums, as well as handling the high costs involved in maintaining them, and have, especially around Asia made cremation the only way of burying the dead, as well as encouraging various ways of marking remembrance.

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