We live together. We die together. When Andrea Pipp died, a piece of the community went with her. Her casket was made by the community with hands and hearts full of life. After the wake in the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages and the funeral mass at our parish church, Andrea’s casket was carried to the Field of Apparitions for one last Rosary together with her family and the community. She was then laid to rest in the Community cemetery.
“When one lives their life for God, even in death, there is no empty shell, but fullness of life in the confidence of knowing that life is born anew in Heaven.”
A close friend of the Community of Caritas when she came to the funeral of one of our beloved community members in the cemetery on the Caritas grounds said:
“We’ve learned how to live by coming to Caritas, and now we’re learning how to die by coming to Caritas. It’s all incredibly beautiful. Thank you all for everything…”
She stood up and gave that testimony the evening of the burial at the gravesite where a Friend of Medjugorje had gathered everyone to close the day in prayer and a sharing of stories and graces people had experienced throughout the period of time the community member was walking towards Eternal Life.
Our Lady has come to correct our erred mentalities, including the erred spiritual perspectives many have today on death and the afterlife. On August 2, 2015, Our Lady of Medjugorje told us not to fear death:
“…For those who will live the word of my Son and who will love, death will be life…”
The beauty of the cemetery was birthed in the sorrow of a Friend of Medjugorje and his wife when their son, John Jacob, died in the womb in 1995. Since then, members of the community who died have been buried in the same cemetery. They are remembered, visited, prayed for, and prayed to every day.
Peace in grief and comfort in prayer. The cemetery at Caritas is not a place of empty sorrow, but the joy of talking to loved ones each day, continuing their presence in the family. Do you doubt your loved ones cannot intercede and enact through their prayers actions of grace on earth? If so, you are very poor. This is why the cemetery is one of the greatest treasures in the community. The sorrow they feel is tempered by the continued presence of the loved ones who have gone before.In his short book, “Judge With Right Judgment”, a Friend of Medjugorje describes the cemetery’s origin, the deep richness it adds to community life, and what society has lost in leaving the “family cemetery” behind. He writes:
“Aside from Our Lady’s apparitions here, one of the things that make us the richest is our own cemetery. Our sixth son died in my wife’s womb at four months. My wife gave birth to him two days after he had died. John Jacob’s tombstone marks his grave at the end of the Rosary Trail, leading from our Home to the Field. Bridget, our seventh child, but first daughter, was conceived just before John Jacob would have been born. Her big brother’s death allowed her to be. Everyday on the way back from Rosary in the Field, we pray three Hail Mary’s for his intercession. Bridget, as well as the rest of us, speaks his name everyday at the end of these Hail Mary’s. ‘John Jacob, pray for us.’ He is actively a part of our family. He is not forgotten. He gave his life and his sister lives.”
This tombstone, lovingly hand carved, marks the beginnings of the Community of Caritas’ cemetery. It is here that community members who pass by stop to pray three Hail Mary’s every time they pass to remember and to ask for the intercession of their loved ones.
A Friend of Medjugorje continues in “Judge with Right Judgement”:
“Society’s structure does not permit this remembrance. Cemeteries are commercial ventures to make money, with quick visits devoid of contemplation, and as time goes by visits become more and more infrequent. Those that formally walked the earth are not part of one’s life schedule, and loved ones in time are only remembered more and more faintly, rather than becoming part of the lives of those who were left behind. It is the result of a world created without God. If my wife dies before me, remarriage will not be a part of my life’s equation. I will continue on with my relationship with her and, in a way, experience more harmony than we could ever achieve on earth. I have a special relationship with Our Lady. She is in Heaven. Why could I not continue one with my wife? Daily, in our own cemetery, I still could discuss the family, address situations everyday, she helping the family from Heaven, and I from earth. Remember at the beginning of Our Lady’s apparitions, Ivanka’s mother, who had just died two months before, appeared with Our Lady and told Ivanka to help her grandmother and that she was proud of her (Ivanka)! Why did Our Lady allow this? She wants to establish a live connection between Heaven and us! This tells us that loved ones are not closed off, enjoying Heaven at the expense of forgetting us on earth. No, they are interested in helping grandmother! We can benefit greatly by remembering our loved ones as our own saints and advocates. Our structure is a life created with God. We are not in and out of a world, sometimes with and sometimes without God. Our cemetery was part of building our house. We planned it with the house—our whole world with God, with the thought of Heaven and our connection with it. It is not strange to us that cemeteries have to do with life and are a major part of a thriving community. We are rich, rich in a way of life, shown to us by Our Lady.”
There is a desire in every community member to give their own offering in the preparation and burial of a loved one. For many of the men and boys of the community, working with wood makes their offering more meaningful. This wood for this casket came from the pine trees surrounding Caritas and is trimmed in cedar. Two cross inlays were fashioned and attached to either side, and the handles for the pall bearers were fashioned in the Caritas blacksmith shop by two of the Caritas boys. These memories are marked into the childrens’ lives and offer lessons of spring, summer, fall, and “the closing of life” in the winter. Society has lost the real value of life and memory making, and love has gone cold.
One by one the community disperses, leaving the family to spend quiet time in prayer and reflection. As a last kind act of love they can do for the bodily remains of their loved ones, a Friend of Medjugorje instituted that the family members each take their turn with a shovel to cover and fill in completely the grave with dirt. This creates memories that are etched into the heart. Community children are not shielded from death, but are taught not to be afraid of it. In this way, they begin to understand that only the body dies, not the spirit, and thereby the body will be given back glorified.
All Hallows’ Eve, or the Eve of the Holy Souls, is celebrated each year in the Caritas Community when most of the rest of the world is celebrating a pagan holiday. A fire is lit in the cemetery at the edge of the Field of Apparitions as the moon rises. The community gathers around the fire, uniting in prayer with those who have gone before. Before the Rosary starts, the souls of all deceased community members, as well as each ones’ past generations and those who have been closely connected to the mission, are named individually. Each person then picks a dried leaf, representing their sins, burdens, and failings and everything they wish to let go of. As the Rosary is prayed, everyone in their own time, burns their leaf to ask Our Lady for the grace for a renewed life.