The ministry continued on Easter Sunday, when the women disciples returned to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus in accordance with the religious customs of the time. During the persecution of the early church, bodies of the faithful departed were laid to rest in secret burial chambers under the outskirts of the city of Rome known as the catacombs. It was in the catacombs where the living celebrated the Eucharist in secret at the tombs of those fellow Christians who had died before them.
The tradition of Christian burial continued throughout the history of the church, first in the churchyards located near the parish churches, and then to regional cemeteries that serve many local parishes within a diocese.
In the Diocese of Wilmington there are 19 active parish cemeteries. There are three active regional cemeteries as follows: Cathedral Cemetery, founded in 1876, is located at 2400 Lancaster Avenue in Wilmington; All Saints Cemetery, founded in 1958, is located a 6001 Kirkwood Highway in the foothills of the Pike Creek Valley; and Gate of Heaven Cemetery founded in 2002 located at 32113 Vines Creek Road in Dagsboro.
At the Catholic cemeteries of the Diocese of Wilmington, we reverently bury the dead, offer compassion and consolation to the grieving, and maintain places of care, prayer and reflection. Our cemeteries express the beauty of our relationship with a God who loves us through their religious environments.
In the traditional atmosphere of Cathedral cemetery, visitors can appreciate the history of the Diocese as shown in the various upright monuments and private mausoleums located throughout the cemetery. The community mausoleums and beautifully appointed Queen of Apostle Chapel reflect the depth of devotion shown to our beloved dead.
At All Saints Cemetery, the inspiring bronze shrines depicting the history of the Church and the Beatitudes, located in the natural environment of this expansive memorial park, remind us of Jesus’ triumph over death and his promise of eternal life. When arriving at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, visitors will notice the impressive entrance, wide roads, manicured lawns and living cross. Other features are the magnificent shrine dedicated to Mary, Star of the Sea, and the colorful mosaic of the Pieta.
The guiding principle of our cemetery ministry lies in the fact that our earthly bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, baptized with water, anointed with oil, nourished with the body and blood of Christ, touched with and vessels of God’s healing and love. Therefore, we pledge to always treat human beings and their mortal remains with respect, dignity and honor.
Out of concern for those we serve and will serve, our diocesan cemeteries are administered in a professional and prudent manner. Balancing ministry and long-term viability, we offer a variety of options that honor the dead and assure the lasting presence of our cemeteries without imposing unrealistic financial burdens on the living. We offer special consideration for those of limited financial means. Convenient payment plans are available for all those who wish to consider making their cemetery arrangements in advance of need.
In addition to crypts, niches and graves, our cemeteries offer memorials and burial vaults to our families. Because we are a religious, not-for-profit organization, our products are often available at substantial savings. We encourage families to consider making their final arrangements before the need actually arises.
In closing, I would like to extend an invitation for everyone to visit one or all of our cemeteries, especially during the month of November, which is designated as a special month of prayer for our faithful departed. I invite you to visit, reflect, pray, remember, smile and love. At our Catholic cemeteries, life is remembered, love is deepened, hope is rekindled, and faith is renewed.
Our cemeteries stand as silent, yet powerful witnesses of a faithful community of Christ’s disciples. For in life and in death we belong to the Lord.
Mark Christian is executive director for Catholic Cemeteries in the Diocese of Wilmington.