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St. Theresa parish in Palm Springs has broken ground on the Diocese’s first columbarium, a structure to place funerary urns containing cremated remains. The Catholic church accepts cremation, as long as the remains are kept in a sacred place such as a columbarium at a church. The columbarium at St. Theresa’s will have 817 niches for urns, and is scheduled for completion in September 2022.

The move reflects a growing trend in California, where 60 percent of burials are now cremated remains, said Al Martini, Director of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Cemeteries. Some Catholic families in the Diocese have been holding on to urns with cremated remains and had asked the Diocese for an appropriate place to inter them, Martini added.

The Catholic Church does permit cremation, although burial is still preferred. According to The Order of Christian Funerals’ Appendix on Cremation: “The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites” (no. 413).

Further, the Church teaches that if cremation is chosen, the cremated remains should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they came. “This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition.  The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.

“The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains on the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires (no. 417).”

Following the completion of the St. Theresa columbarium, there are plans to construct columbariums at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Arrowhead and St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Temecula.