VANCOUVER, Washington — Neat rows of 220 white crosses, decorated with bright candles and beautiful flowers and bearing the names of deceased loved ones, are the focal point for the All Souls’ novena at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Vancouver.
For nine evenings leading up to All Souls’ Day Nov. 2, parishioners have been gathering in the parish courtyard amid the crosses of their virtual cemetery to pray the rosary in English and Spanish.
“Praying a bilingual novena, the same rosary at the same time, is so powerful,” said Father Alfredo Velazquez, priest administrator at St. John.
FVelazquez, who comes from the Archdiocese of Guadalajara, Mexico, came up with the idea of a virtual cemetery as a pastoral initiative. Inviting parishioners to place the names of their loved ones on the crosses is an opportunity for them “to remember (and) pray for the eternal rest of their beloved,” he said.
Lori Jimerson, St. John’s pastoral assistant for administration, said many of their parishioners have immigrated or traveled to the U.S., leaving loved ones behind. And many parishioners have lost loved ones since arriving here and could not return home, Velazquez said.
“They cannot travel back to their loved one’s gravesite and pray and decorate,” Jimerson said.
About half of St. John’s parishioners are Spanish speakers.
“We’re Hispanic, so it’s tradition remembering the ones who passed away,” said Yarely Duran, the parish receptionist who prints and laminates the name affixed to each cross. “It’s a special day for them.”
In the second year of this prayerful remembrance, the courtyard crosses and novena are becoming a welcome tradition, one that helps families heal, Father Velazquez said. It’s also an opportunity to practice the spiritual works of mercy, share culture and educate a younger generation about tradition, he said.
Inside St. John Church, Velazquez said, there is a table to place photographs of deceased loved ones to remember and pray for them. In addition, the parish’s bereavement committee provides a shroud with the written names of loved ones who have died.
In the courtyard, volunteers created an “altar for the souls” decorated with the crosses, flowers, banners and lights and there is a memorial altar with the names of priests in the archdiocese who died in the past year.
Photos and videos from the novena are posted on the parish’s Facebook page, where several people have left comments:
“Muy hermoso! Que nuestros difuntos estén siempre en nuestras oraciones para que puedan así alcanzar la gloria de Dios …en paz descansen,” Liz Delao wrote which translates: “Very beautiful! May our deceased be always in our prayers so that they may thus attain the glory of God. Rest in peace.”
A cultural event with music, dancing and sharing of stories and poems is planned for Oct. 30. The novena continues through the Feast of All Saints on Nov. 1.
On Nov. 2, “The Day of Souls, where we express our faith in eternal life, we celebrate with joy,” Father Velazquez said. “It’s a moment when we express our belief (the deceased) are alive in Jesus Christ.”
Sexton writes for the Northwest Catholic, the magazine of the Archdiocese of Seattle.