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The Diocesan Office of Catholic Cemeteries announced a series of actions following an organized opposition to the gravesite decorations policy at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic (OLQP) Cemetery in Colton.

A group of families who have loved ones interred at OLQP have raised objections to the Cemetery maintenance staff’s removal of flowers and other memorabilia from the gravesites. The Cemetery’s long-standing policy has been to allow flowers at gravesites for a short period (flowers are removed during weekly maintenance sweeps of the grounds). Decorations are allowed to remain for a longer period at gravesites during major holidays (one week prior through one week after).

“Flowers are allowed year-round and are cleared on Wednesday of each week,” wrote Diocesan Catholic Cemeteries Director Al Martini in an Aug. 15 letter to OLQP families. “The Rules and Regulations were approved and adopted in 2005 when the Cemetery opened.”

In his letter, Martini acknowledged that the policy was not strictly enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing staffing shortages at the Cemetery. As restrictions have eased and regular public access to the Cemetery resumed, maintenance staff reported a significant increase in the amount of non-floral items left at gravesites, such as food, toys and alcoholic beverage containers.

Still, some families reported in their complaints that Cemetery maintenance staff, which is managed by Dignity Memorial, was insensitive in its communication and enforcement of the policy.

“We offer our sincere apology if any family was offended,” wrote Martini. “We have conducted internal interviews of all personnel to determine if any improper behavior was displayed.”

To address the situation, the Office of Catholic Cemeteries and staff from Dignity Memorial also met with groups of concerned families on August 3 and August 24.

Like so many facets of life, the pandemic has had a major impact on the process of burial and mourning among the Catholic faithful, especially with the number lives claimed by the virus.

“The Diocese is aware that many of our families may not have had the opportunity to grieve the loss of their loved ones as they had wished,” Martini said. “Everyone suffered from the impact of COVID-19; unprecedented numbers of deaths from all walks of life, limited funeral attendance, delayed burials, outdoor liturgies, limited personal contact and other difficulties.”

To accompany OLQP families in their grieving process, the Cemetery will offer a team of deacons, bereavement counselors, seminarians and clergy to be present at the cemetery gardens. “They will be there to offer prayers, blessings, a compassionate ear and resources to guide you in your journey of loss,” Martini wrote.

In September, the Office of Catholic Cemeteries was also busy preparing for the national Catholic Cemetery Conference, which the Diocese is hosting in Palm Springs September 19-22.