November 9, 2011

"Sloppy handling of troops' remains"

I've written several posts on how respectfully the military handles the dead, so this story about Dover Air Force Base is particularly disturbing.

Air Force mishandled remains of war dead, probe finds

Federal investigators said Tuesday they uncovered “gross mismanagement” at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary that cares for America’s war dead after whistleblowers reported horror stories of lost body parts, shoddy inventory controls and lax supervision.

 Dover Airforce Mortuary

The former mortuary commander and two other senior officials have been disciplined — but not fired — in response to separate investigations conducted by the Air Force Inspector General, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that also received the whistleblower complaints.

The grisly findings at Dover echo a similar scandal at another hallowed repository for the military’s dead, Arlington National Cemetery. An Army investigation last year documented cases of misidentified remains at Arlington, dug-up urns that had been dumped in a dirt pile and botched contracts worth millions of dollars. The Army Criminal Investigation Command and the FBI are now conducting a criminal probe there.

The sloppy handling of troops’ remains at Dover and Arlington painfully undercuts what the military has long borne as a sacred obligation: to treat its fallen members and their families with utmost levels of dignity and honor.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:02 AM | Permalink

November 7, 2011

Despair over death leads to nihilism

Pope Benedict says modern day nihilism stems from despair over death

Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims to Rome on Sunday that a loss of faith in Jesus Christ has led many people to despair in the face of death.
“If we remove God, if we take away Christ, the world will fall back into the void and darkness,” he said in his Nov. 6 Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square.

“And this is also reflected in the expressions of contemporary nihilism, an often subconscious nihilism that unfortunately plagues many young people.”

The Pope charted the impact that the Christian message had upon the ancient world where “the religion of the Greeks, the cults and pagan myths were not able to shed light on the mystery of death.” He noted that ancient inscriptions read “In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus,” meaning “How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing.”
Thus, St. Paul reminded the Christians of Ephesus that they were “without hope and without God in the world” before their conversion to Christianity, whereas afterwards they no longer grieved “like the rest, who have no hope.”

“Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” said the Pope, is “a decisive watershed.” It is the “definite” difference between “believers and non-believers,” or “those who hope and who do not hope.”

Our Last Judgment, therefore, will be “based on the love we practiced in our earthly life.” That is why it is “true wisdom” to take advantage of mortal life to carry out works of mercy, because “after our death, it will no longer be possible.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 PM | Permalink

Police official, father of 4 and Catholic monk and priest

Jim Murray, D.C. police force recruiter who later became a priest

Jim Murray, 85, who as a top civilian official in the D.C. police department led a minority recruitment drive that diversified the force after the rioting that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died Oct. 31 at St. Bede Academy, a monastery in Illinois .

Mr. Murray had lived there for more than two decades, since undergoing a spiritual awakening that led him to become a Benedictine monk and an ordained Roman Catholic priest. He had cancer, said his son, Matt Murray, a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal and the author of a 1999 memoir about his father, “The Father and the Son.
he was credited with leaving a much larger department and with adding 842 black officers to the force.

The year after Mr. Murray left for a job with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, his wife died of breast cancer. He did his best to continue working and finish raising his children, but he spoke of feeling “a lack of depth” in his life, his son wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

The day after he retired in 1979, he began to attend Mass daily, a sign of a transformation in his approach to Catholicism. Among the signs of that change, his son wrote, were the tears that streamed down his face during the church service.

Always a reader, he exchanged his old books for works on the lives of saints. One by one, he sold his possessions, including his home in Bethesda, and began to live like a “suburban mendicant,” his son wrote.

In 1985, he moved to St. Bede, where he took the vows that made him first a monk and then a priest.

“I just abandoned myself to God,” he told his son.
Survivors include four children, David Murray of St. Louis, Jonathan Murray of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Sarah Murray of Alameda, Calif., and Matt Murray of the Bronx; and four grandchildren.

In a telephone interview from the monastery weeks before his death, Mr. Murray said he saw a theme in his life. It ran from his boyhood to his personnel management work, and, finally, to his time at St. Bede. Abbot Philip Davey, the monastery’s leader, said more than 60 people regularly visited him there for spiritual guidance.

“I was a poor boy growing up,” said Mr. Murray, who was known as Father James. “People . . . looked right through, like you didn’t exist. I really vowed never to do that. I never treated people as if they didn’t exist.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 PM | Permalink

Final Embrace

 Skeltons Holding Hands

Together forever...lovers holding hands for 1500 years discovered in Rome grave

Laid out side by side and holding hands, these 1,500-year-old male and female skeletons are surely a sign of eternal love if ever there was one.

The lovers were probably even ‘looking into each other’s eyes’ when they were buried in the 5th century, during the final days of the Roman Empire.

The extraordinary discovery was made by archaeologists excavating an Ancient Roman palace in the Italian town of Mutina, known today as Modena.

Anthropologist Vania Milani said:  ‘It was a very touching and beautiful sight to see. The woman’s head is turned towards the man and they were holding each other’s hands.  I suspect the head of the man was also turned towards the woman at the time of burial and that it was probably resting on a cushion which then decomposed over time and caused it to roll away.  They would have been looking into each other’s eyes at the time of burial in a sign of eternal love.’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:32 AM | Permalink

November 2, 2011

All Souls Day

Tradition is that Faure's Requiem is performed on All Souls Day, November 2.  Tonight I am going to hear the Boston Boys' Choir and the Men's Schola sing Faure's Requiem at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge. 

It is heavenly music.

Here is the Kings College Choir singing Pie Jesu and Agnes Dei from the Requiem

More from the Requiem, "In Paradisum"

from a Concert in Berne, May 2007, Agata Mazurkiewicz, conductor, Choir Konzertverein Bern, Berne Chamber Orchestra.

Insight Scoop traces All Souls Day

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once said so well, one major difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics pray for the dead:

"My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it." Why?

"Because few things are as immediate, as human and as widespread—at all times and in all cultures—as prayer for one"s own departed dear ones." Calvin, the Reformer of Geneva, had a woman whipped because she was discovered praying at the grave of her son and hence was guilty, according to Calvin, of superstition". "In theory, the Reformation refuses to accept Purgatory, and consequently it also rejects prayer for the departed. In fact German Lutherans at least have returned to it in practice and have found considerable theological justification for it. Praying for one's departed loved ones is a far too immediate urge to be suppressed; it is a most beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death. The happiness or unhappiness of a person dear to me, who has now crossed to the other shore, depends in part on whether I remember or forget him; he does not stop needing my love.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:39 AM | Permalink

Where's Waldo?

Today is All Souls Day, the day when we pray for the dead.      Looking to visit a grave or a cemetery?

Findagrave is your resource that holds some 70 million grave records.    With 8-10 million page views a day, it started as a joke.

When Jim Tipton saw a massive tombstone in a Gainesville, Fl., cemetery that was engraved with the name Waldo, he snapped a photo, developed the film and coded a rudimentary HTML website, which he titled "I Found Him." The year was 1995.


From that droll joke, which was seen by a few hundred early web adopters, grew, easily the world's most extensive and trafficked online database of graves. On any given day serves 8-10 million page views. The crowd-sourced knowledge base even tracks down the final resting places of individuals. Ask the site’s users to locate where dead loved ones lie and, according to Tipton, 80 percent of the time you'll have an answer.

"It's something that happened to me rather than something I did," Tipton told me over the phone a few weeks ago, referring to the success of a site he started as a lark.

That meager collection snowballed into database that became huge. "The power of the crowd really energized the site," he said. People whom Tipton affectionately calls the black sheep, death obsessed, cemetery walkers came out of nowhere and added grave after grave. Today, the site's users add grave records at three times the U.S. death rate. For the past 16 years, he's just been trying to keep up with the flood.
Find a Grave lets the living connect with the past. Long-lost lovers, army buddies, childhood friends, those ghosts we carry with us can be found by a simple query and the efforts of an army of cemetery walkers sharing their solitary pursuit through Find A Grave.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:08 AM | Permalink

Sacred Memories Sold as Scrap

The desecration of war memorials continues apace in the U.K.

Sacred memories sold as scrap: Clampdown on dealers who encourage pillage of war memorials, demand police

Campaigners fighting to save war memorials from scrap metal thieves say only a handful have ever been brought to justice.

Tragically, the War Memorials Trust also revealed that only one in ten of the stolen plaques and statues are ever recovered.\
Frances Moreton, director of the trust, said the rest end up being melted down by unscrupulous scrap metal dealers making a fast buck out of Britain’s fallen heroes.

The Mail reported yesterday that the 100,000 war memorials in Britain are being targeted by thieves and vandals at the rate of one every other day. Thieves steal the brass plaques to dealers, who melt the metal down to fuel the worldwide demand for scarce metals.

 Sacred Memories Sold As Scrap

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:07 AM | Permalink

November 1, 2011

On All Saints Day, Dalrymple Visits a Guatemalan Graveyard

Theodore Dalrymple visits a Guatemalan graveyard on All Saints Day with a woman from North America

I like graveyards in general, and Guatemalan graveyards are particularly attractive. Every little pueblo has its cemetery, the plain block-like tombs gaily painted pink, yellow, white, purple, sky-blue or mauve. They are well cared for and not at all dismal.

On 1 November, All Saints' Day, I had been in the little town of Salama, some sixty miles distant from the capital. All Saints' Day is every cemetery's day of glory, the day on which Catholic Guatemalans go with their families to the tombs of their dead relatives and spend the day there. Flowers are taken: real flowers, beautiful but ephemeral, or plastic ones, gaudy but permanent. A few days beforehand, the family refreshes the tomb with a coat of paint and renews the inscription. On the day itself, everyone picnics over grandmama, eating a dish called fiambre - rice and twenty different kinds of cold meat - which is prepared only for this day.
No grave was totally neglected on All Saints' Day, and even the graves of the dead without descendants were newly painted or strewn with a flower or two.

 Guatemalan Cemetery

People from northern latitudes often find the customs of All Saints' Day morbid. I found them not only charming, but moving and wise. It seemed to me that death as the inevitable end of life was accepted better in Guatemala than in our own culture, where everything possible is done to disguise the fact of death until the last moment, when it comes as a terrible shock. And surely it is some consolation to the dying to know that at least once a year they will be remembered.

Nothing could illustrate better the contrast in our attitudes to death than the behaviour of the North American lady with whom I visited Salama cemetery on All Saints' Day. It happened that she was a member of the American Association of Graveyard Studies, which has a membership of 300, and as such I supposed she would be interested in the activities in the graveyard on this of all days. On the contrary, she regarded them as a hindrance to the proper study of gravestones as purely physical artifacts. I was rather embarrassed when, wishing to take a photograph of a particular tomb, she asked the family who had decorated it in remembrance to remove their flowers so that the tomb should appear in her photograph in its 'natural' state. She preferred her cemeteries dead in every possible sense, so that they were strange and alien places on the edge of town, with no connection to the world of the living. Thus death remained a taboo for her, despite her studies; she belonged to a culture in which death was warded off by facelifts, vitamin tablets, the magical avoidance of ubiquitous substances and even the freezing of corpses at -270°. Which was the wiser attitude?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:59 AM | Permalink