Two Ohio apostolates honor the dead, dying

It’s customary to pray for the dead in November, but two apostolates based in Ohio remind us that there is more we can do to help others facing death, and to honor those who have died, all year round.

Cincinnati’s Apostolate for the Dying prays for people in their final hours. The St. Joseph of Arimathea Society in Cleveland gives the dignity of a Catholic burial to people who die alone. Both groups aim to extend the graces of Catholic life to people who are largely forgotten, so that they don’t die without prayer and the spiritual solace of the Church.

Apostolate for the Dying

Begun in 2003 by women who had prayed at the bedside of a dying family member, the Apostolate for the Dying took shape when sisters-in-law Fernanda and Maria Lourdes Moreira saw how much consolation their relative had received from their prayers.

The women wanted to pray with others dying in hospices, but found that it was nearly impossible for anyone but clergy and family to be with them. Instead, Fernanda and her daughter, Paula Dudzinski, began praying together at their church. A prayer group grew quickly around them, and the members soon had a collection of prayers they found especially fitting. With the support of their pastor, they began an apostolate that has reached Nigeria, the Philippines, Brazil and Portugal, as well as several American states.

Annamarie Short became involved with the group after she learned that one of their main prayers was the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. A member of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy (EADM), she saw the apostolate as a natural extension of the group’s work to make devotion to Christ’s infinite mercy better known.

“Unlike the holy souls in purgatory, who are safe even though they suffer, the dying need help at their last hour,” Short told Our Sunday Visitor. “Our Lady of Fatima said that souls go to hell because no one prays for them. Nowadays, when so many people have turned away from God and so many die suddenly from violence, unprepared, the last hour is the most important hour of our lives.”

St. Joseph of Arimathea Society

Burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy. W.P. Wittman Ltd

Almost as forgotten are those who die alone or indigent. At about the same time that the Moreira sisters-in-law were realizing how much the dying need prayers, leaders of the Christian Action Team (CAT) at St. Ignatius Loyola High School in Cleveland were realizing that people who die penniless or have outlived their friends and families rarely receive the kind of funeral faithful Catholics desire.

Founded in 2003, the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry provides witnesses and pallbearers for Catholic funerals. It’s become the school’s largest extracurricular activity, so popular with students that it’s now restricted to juniors and seniors, each of whom can serve only once every semester.

Named for the man who helped prepare Christ’s body for burial and giving up his own tomb, the ministry has served 20 funeral homes. Sometimes the deceased have small families who are too old or disabled to carry the coffin; sometimes only one or two mourners attend the funerals; sometimes the boys and their adult companions are the only witnesses.

“It is our belief that no person should die without being prayed for or mourned,” James Skerl, who founded the action team to serve the homeless, poor and mentally disabled, told OSV. St. Ignatius students attend funerals and carry the coffin, “learning to offer sympathy and support to others and offer hope in the face of death.”

Since 2003, students and adult companions have served at more than 1,200 funerals (some 200-250 each year, including some non-Catholic funerals).

The ministry operates year-round, including Christmas and summer breaks, and students also attend two annual prayer services at the city’s Potter’s Field, where indigent people are buried.

Other Cleveland schools have begun their own societies, and more have sprung up in North Carolina, Kentucky, Denver and Kansas.

Both the Apostolate for the Dying and the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society help people who don’t know about — and can’t thank — their helpers. Both allow participants to perform works of mercy: the spiritual work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead, and the corporal work of mercy to bury the dead.

And though both are centered on death, they are also about life.

“As Catholics, we promote the sanctity of life from conception until the moment of death,” Short said. “So we are pro-life, too.”

Gail Deibler Finke is senior editor of “The Catholic Beat” in Cincinnati.