Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

New FEMA Program offers relief for COVID-related Funeral Expenses

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program is providing financial assistance of up to $9,000 for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred between January 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

To be eligible for the assistance, you need to meet the following conditions:

  • The death must have occurred in the U.S., including the US territories and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020. (There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a US citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien.)

FEMA states they will reimburse families up to $9,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs. It isn’t yet clear what factors will determine who is able to receive the full amount, or a portion of the available funds.

Before applications open up in April, FEMA recommends those who may be eligible gather the following documentation:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the U.S., including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. (You can get one by contacting the state or county vital records office. Sometimes a cemetery, funeral home, or a third-party provider can also request this for you.)
  • Funeral expenses documents (receipts, cemetery contract, funeral home contract, etc.) that include the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA is not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources.

Find out more information about this program directly at the FEMA website.

The Catholic Cemeteries Office of the Diocese of Bridgeport is available to assist with any burial information required to file for this assistance, as well as discuss and plan for your future needs.

(For more information visit: bridgeportdiocese.org/fema.)

Catholic Cemeteries respond to the crisis

BRIDGEPORT—With the number of deaths in Fairfield County climbing as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, Catholic Cemetery workers are taking added precautions to protect themselves and mourners from spreading the virus.

Dean Gestal, director of diocesan Catholic Cemeteries, said that over the last two-week period, twelve of the last 21 burials have been from Coronavirus-related deaths.

Gestal said that the 40 diocesan employees who manage and maintain the nine active cemeteries are now wearing protective clothing, gloves and masks and taking additional safety measures at each burial.

“It takes our burial workers five minutes to get into their protective suits and five minutes to get out of them, but it has added another layer of protection for all involved,” Gestal said.

He said that in response to crisis and consistent with the guidelines developed by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, diocesan cemeteries have issued new funeral guidelines for staff and for the public for all In-ground burials and mausoleum entombments (from COVID-19 and no- COVID-19 deaths).

The graveside service will be open only to Immediate family with a maximum of ten in attendance. All committal rites will be conducted outside without tents or chairs (except for the elderly or infirmed). Mausoleums will be closed to all but cemetery workers.

The burial will be completed after the service when the family has departed.

Gestal said most families have understood and appreciated the safety precautions, which are done with dignity for all involved. However, he acknowledged that it is a difficult time for those who have lost a loved ones.

He said the crisis has underscored the need for pre-planning for individuals and families, who may not think of burial arrangements in good times. He said that cemeteries throughout the diocese have received inquiries and requests for information, which his staff is able to handle.

“We all have to get through the worst of this before we can move forward. As the deaths from the virus spikes, we are stressed but not overwhelmed. I’m grateful to our staff who have responded to the crisis and brought this ministry to families in need,” Gestal said.

On March 16, in response to the health and safety threat posed by the Coronavirus and the concern of civil authorities, Bishop Caggiano suspended all public Masses, including funeral Masses in the diocese. However, the crisis guidelines permit priests to celebrate the Rite of Committal with Final Commendation at the graveside. The bishop suggested to pastors that at a later date, a public memorial Mass be celebrated for the repose of the soul of the deceased and the consolation of the family. Similar practices have been put in place by dioceses across the country.

For further information on Catholic Cemeteries, visit online: www.bridgeportdiocese.org/cemeteries/home; Phone: 203.416.1494

Praying for “All Souls” Puts Us in Communion with Them

STRATFORD — They came to St. Michael Cemetery on a cold and blustery All Souls Day to pray for family members and friends … and people who had no one to pray for them. They celebrated Mass for the faithful departed in a tent on an autumn morning, huddled against the November wind.

Recently ordained Father Peter Adamski of St. James Church told the several hundred people who had gathered for the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, “The Church is asking us to pray in a very special way for all the deceased, for all those whom we knew but also for all those who have died without the news of their passing ever being communicated. Any one of us could have known only a tiny fraction of the people who have died even in our own time, let alone since mankind began. But our Creator does. Our Creator is a personal God who calls each and every one of those individuals by name.”

It was a very special occasion for Father Adamski, who was ordained last June at 65 years old. During Mass, among those he prayed for was his late wife, Kathy, to whom he was married more than 40 years.

“This was a very special Mass for me today to be here for the first time on All Souls Day as a priest, remembering not only the soul of my beloved wife, Kathy, but to be here in this sacred space among all these faithful departed, was so moving for me, so moving,” he said. “I thought about it for the past few days — what it would be like to be the celebrant at Mass on All Souls Day. It touched me profoundly. I am so thankful to God that he has graced me with my priesthood. I thank him so many times a day for my priesthood. I know that I was created to be this priest, to minister to this flock, and despite the cold that I felt in my hands today, when I held Jesus in my hands, they were warm. They radiated the love of God.”

During his homily, he talked about the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit, “the divine person in whom God exists like a gift of oneself, and which emanates the love between the Father and the Son.”

Father recalled Jesus’ words, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” He said that Jesus could not lose those who were given to him along with the Holy Spirit.

“If therefore during his or her life on Earth, a man or a woman remains firmly united to the Holy Spirit by means of faith, hope and charity, then how could it happen that Jesus would lose them? No, it is not possible,” Father said.

“Today we remember many whom we have known and loved, family members and friends, the wider circle of everyone we have met in life who have passed on,” he said. “Praying for our loved ones expresses our ongoing communion with them. We commit all who have gone ahead of us to God, who also accompanies us on our journey of life. Our communion in the Church keeps us in fellowship with all who have died. Praying for them now, my friends, we ask that they share in eternal life with Christ.”

Joining Father Adamski at the Mass were Deacon Joe Koletar and Barbara Seymour, sacristan of St. James, and Pablo Aca, a seminarian at St. John Fisher in Stamford.

Among those who attended was Sister Maria Jasmine of the Missionaries of Charity in Bridgeport, who said, “I prayed for all those here [in the cemetery and the congregation], my parents and family members and the poor we work with.”

Joe Trovarelli Jr., a Catholic cemetery counselor, distributed red and white carnations to people so they could place them on the graves.

“I have many relatives here, grandparents on both sides, aunts and uncles — it is so important to do this in this sacred place and remember our loved ones who passed on,” he said.

Kristin Balazsi, who has been the office manager at the cemetery for 27 years, said that among those family members who are buried at St. Michael’s are her grandparents and father, Lawrence Arszyla, who was director of the Catholic cemeteries.

After the Mass, the faithful, carrying their carnations, walked among the graves and placed the flowers on them. Throughout the cemetery, they could be seen standing in silent prayer for their loved ones.

All Souls Day Mass was celebrated in six cemeteries of the Diocese of Bridgeport. November is the month to remember the souls in purgatory.

All Souls Day Mass brings a message of hope

BRIDGEPORT—More than 1,000 people throughout the diocese attended the outdoor All Souls Day Masses held in six cemeteries today.

With a blustery autumn wind flapping the large white tents and maples trees lit by their fiery orange leaves, people joined in prayer for the repose of the souls of all the faithful departed.

November is the month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory and All Souls Day is a special day in particular during which we pray for those who have died.

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish to be dead… but they are in peace,” the faithful heard in the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom.

As people processed out of Mass they were gifted with long-stem red and white carnations which many placed on a nearby grave to remember their loved one.

Two years ago, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano called for outdoor All Souls Day Masses to be said in cemeteries around the diocese. Today was his first visit to St. Peter Cemetery in Danbury for the observance.

In his homily, which was streamed live on the diocesan Facebook page, the bishop noted that the recent Vatican Youth Synod began with Mass celebrated by Pope Francis before 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, Piazza San Pietro.

As he was overwhelmed by the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica, the bishop said he realized “the piazza is also a cemetery,” because in Roman times it was a stadium where hundreds of thousands of Christians were put to death by Emperor Nero, who thought he could get rid of the Christians once and for all.

“How wrong they were!” the bishop said, noting that he and others were gathered at the cemetery today in gratitude for the gift that Jesus gave through his own death on the Cross. “In this cemetery, we celebrate the death of one who has given life to us all.”

“When we lose someone we have loved, it is a moment of grief, sadness and loss. There is a hole we are not totally able to fill. Yet despite the loss, we believe that those who die in Christ are destined for an empty tomb. They will rise from the grave and receive what Christ has promised in His Resurrection.”

The bishop said that is not easy being a faithful Christian in the 21st century. “There are many voices whispering around us. They say, trust money, trust power, trust your own voice. They are all lies. There is only one to trust, the one we encounter here at the altar.”

“As we pray for all the deceased, let us remember this is a pilgrimage unto eternal life,” he said

St. Michael Cemetery, Stratford

“The Church asks us to pray for our deceased brothers and sisters,” Fr. Arthur Mollenhauer, pastor of St. James Parish in Stratford, said to the 150 people who attended Mass as St. Michael Cemetery on the Bridgeport/Stratford line.

“We know that death is only a new door that brings us to the glory of God forever,” said Fr. Mollenhauer, who was assisted by Deacon Joseph Koletar.

“Today we remember and are united with all who have gone before us… We are also reminded that we too are destined to leave this world and pass through the door they have passed through.”

At the end of Mass Fr. Mollenhauer thanked the cemetery workers at St. Michael’s along with all those who maintain the other Catholic cemeteries across the diocese. He said they serve families in grief through their hard work in all kinds of weather.

St. Mary Cemetery, Greenwich

During his homily at St. Mary Cemetery in Greenwich Msgr. Thomas Powers said, “We are here to console one another in faith.”

“We as a Church pray together; we as a Church rejoice together; and we as a Church also weep together. And today we unite ourselves with all those who have died, with all the angels and saints and with Our Lord in this Eucharist. In this Eucharist, Jesus Christ in His body, blood, soul and divinity tells each one of us, I love you and He reminds us that He also loves those who have died and He helps be prepared so that God can bring fully into His eternal embrace.”

Msgr. Powers said that All Souls Day is a celebration of hope, “we believe, as St. Paul tells us, that our loved ones are still alive in Christ.”

“It has always been a festival of hope in the life of the Church, because in Jesus Christ, death does not have the final say. St. Paul tells us today, ‘If, then, we have died in Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.’”

Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Trumbull

“The best gift we can give anyone is the gift of prayer,” said Father Joseph A. Marcello as he addressed the crowd of over 200 at the All Souls Mass at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Trumbull.

“The best thing we can do for our beloved dead is to pray for them,” said Father Marcello.

Father Marcello explained, “We know that those who have died in Christ, their souls are very much alive.” As Christians, we believe that the dead are not gone. Their bodies have died, but their souls live on forever.

“This is why we say they have ‘fallen asleep in Christ,” they are not dead, only sleeping,” Father Marcello addressed the gathered with a message of hope.

Father Marcello explained that no one has ever made a serious claim to be in possession of Jesus’ body. “That’s just the point,” said Father, “Jesus is not buried anywhere, because He is not dead.”

“By our very presence we are looking forward in expectant hope…because Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again in glory,” Father Marcello explained that this is why Christians have never spoken of death in an absolute sense.

Quoting St. Ambrose of Milan, Father Marcello closed out his homily saying, “We are here because we love them, so let us conduct them by our prayers into the house of the Lord.”

All Souls Day Masses were also celebrated at St. John Cemetery in Norwalk by Msgr. Walter C. Orlowski, and at St. John Cemetery in Darien, Father John P. Connaughton.

Arrangements for the outdoor Masses are supported by Catholic Cemeteries under the director of Frank Spodnick and the Diocesan Real Estate Office.

The diocese sponsors nine cemeteries around Fairfield County. For information on Catholic Cemeteries, call 203.416.1494.

Greenwich Cemetery Photos by Michelle Babyak


 

Danbury Photos by Amy Mortensen