On Wednesday, December 5, under gray skies and cool and windy conditions, LACW community members were part of a group of approximately 200 people who attended an interfaith graveside memorial service honoring 1,467 people whose bodies were unclaimed in 2015 and cremated. Some may have been people we served at our Skid Row soup kitchen or other houseless sisters and brothers, others were individuals whose families were too poor to claim them and pay the cremation expenses, while others had no known family to grieve for them.
The annual service, held since the 1890’s, is conducted at Evergreen Cemetery near our house in Boyle Heights, and is organized by our longtime friend, Fr. Chris Ponnet, head chaplain at L.A. County – U.S.C. Hospital. Over the past dozen plus years, the numbers of attendees has steadily increased from about fifteen people to nearly two hundred this year.
Prayers were offered in English, Spanish, Korean, and Fijian, along with a Muslim text by representatives of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths. A Native American woman chanted, and a man played classical music on an oboe in between prayers. Some people brought a single flower, others bouquets of flowers, yet others some sort of offering, with sage and incense being burned.
While the rich and powerful have lengthy ceremonies with lots of attention, accolades, and honor, receiving international coverage, the poorest of the poor are also remembered in a simple service attended by strangers who care enough to uphold their dignity as God’s children not to be forgotten.