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It's not often that a story moves me to near tears. But the one I ran across Wednesday of last week - about a group of volunteer student pallbearers - came close. The Ohio group's work, I think, offers local young people a chance to do something similar in carrying out one of the corporal works of mercy: that of burying the dead.
The Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry is offered by students of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. Students volunteer to serve as pallbearers at funerals for people who have died alone, are elderly or whose families have difficulty in finding enough relatives or friends to carry the casket.
The group named itself after the work of Joseph of Arimathea, who in the New Testament assists with the burial of Jesus.
Local funeral homes in the Cleveland area have called on the student ministry more than 300 times. The service is offered free of charge in students' belief that no person should die without being mourned or prayed for. Students consider it an honor and privilege to serve as pallbearers and not only represent their high school but their community. I suspect the teenagers also learn the important virtue of being able to offer sympathy to others, even to strangers.
Members of the school group arrive at the funeral home and meet with friends and family of the deceased, assist with prayers and attend the funeral service. They also take part in the funeral procession and carry the casket from the funeral home and, once at the cemetery, to the grave.
Back in their classroom, students reflect on the experience and what serving as a pallbearer meant to them.
The sponsor of the ministry came up with the idea while teaching his students about the corporal works of mercy, a list I had to memorize in religion class. I never forgot the seven acts good people, of all faiths, should carry out during their lives.
Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead
People die alone here in our community. Others are the last surviving members of their families. I know there are local cases, maybe lots of them, where families have to scramble to find pallbearers. Wouldn't it be great if a local school or church group could organize young men to serve as volunteer pallbearers? What a gesture that would say about young people willing to serve others, even strangers!
As supporters of county teenagers look to involve them constructively in the community, there are other ways they might show respect for the community and the dead. Recent escapes from Branchville Correctional Facility have meant fewer men being sent out on work crews. One of the tasks those teams carried out was providing maintenance of rural cemeteries. Offenders aren't doing that work now but a local group of teens, properly supervised, could do a marvelous service by providing the occasional mowing or trimming of grave sites.
Some local youth already do their part. Scouts place U.S. flags on the graves of veterans every May for Memorial Day and that's certainly offering a very significant sign of respect for the dead.
You may have remembered a front-page story a few weeks ago about a youth-leadership project supported by the Perry County Community Foundation and United Way of Perry County. A large number of teens signed up for the program and will be working on finding ways to encourage their counterparts to get involved in the community.
Relaxing Our Style
I suspect most readers saw the notice indicating The News has transitioned its obituary policy to allow for free and paid obituaries. At the same time, I've decided that some of the style guidelines need reviewing, and in some cases, relaxed. One change is that we are now listing the names of in-laws in social items, including anniversaries. They are also being listed in paid obituaries. Until now, we seldom listed the names of in-laws in any social-news items, even if the family wanted them included.
A wise editor once told me "names are news," and within reason, we want to include the names of people readers find important enough to submit to us.
It wasn't that long ago when it was hard to find a married woman's first name in our newspaper. She was always identified with her husband, Mrs. Jim Smith. Every person counts. Times change and so should we.