Voices Online Edition
Volume XIII, No. 4
How Do We Bury The Unloved Dead?
A Funeral for the Chino Hills Babies
By Teri Seipel
How does one conduct a graveside funeral for the most unwanted and unloved in society? It's a rather disheartening, perplexing problem, and unfortunately one that is repeatedly raised, given the 20-plus years since the landmark ruling of Roe vs. Wade, legalizing "choice", the murder of pre-born humanity. The prospects of how to "dispose" of the aborted has come increasingly under fire, literally, given the fact that most fetal tissue ends up in either hazardous waste dumps or incinerators.
Recently, that question was resolved uniquely and beautifully when a local group formed to provide burial services for fifty-four aborted babies dumped by the side of a Southern California freeway. Cradles of Love was an ecumenical group founded over eighteen months ago, under the leadership of Bob Shelly, when word spread that five boxes of human remains were discarded in Chino Hills, California.
The purpose of the group was to give a Christian burial and committal to the fetuses. As per State legal requirements, human tissues, including fetuses, are to be disposed of by incineration or burial. Fetuses are generally incinerated, though they can be buried if "developed enough" and if their families wish to bury them. (There is no clear guideline how "developed" a fetus must be for burial.) It is normal procedure for unclaimed bodies at the Coroner's office to be turned over to private citizens provided their backgrounds are checked.
The Coroner's office had held onto the Chino Hills fetuses so that they could be used as evidence in cases against the truck driver Douglas Figueroa, who dumped the boxes, and Dr. Albert Brown, who operated the clinic from which the boxes originated. (The state attorney's office has since filed a civil case against Brown, and Figueroa has been deported.) With the permission of the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office, the Coroner's office released the fetuses Friday, October 9, to Drapers Mortuary in Ontario, which donated its services to Cradles of Love.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), immediately sent a letter of protest to the Coroner's office stating that it had violated Church/State separation by granting release of the fetuses to a Christian group for a religious burial. (Though threatening demonstrations, the ACLU took no further action against the funeral services.)
That same evening an ecumenical prayer service was held at Chino Hills First United Reform Church. Saturday morning, October 10, a Rosary and Mass were held at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Chino Hills, followed by prayers at the site of a family planning clinic. On Sunday afternoon, October 11, over four hundred attended a public graveside service held at Crestlawn Cemetery in Riverside. The cemetery had donated the burial plot.
What constitutes such a graveside burial?
Bagpipes accompanied the procession of the tiny white coffins from the hearses to the burial site. "Yes, Jesus Loves Me" softly floated across the air. Churches in the Chino Hills area had named each of the babies. Those names were read aloud during the Friday evening service as each casket was carried to the grave in procession from the hearses by pallbearers from the "adoptive" church.
About a dozen floral sprays decorated the temporary pulpit. Some arrangements featured blue and pink colors. One wreath was adorned with baby items shoes, pacifiers, building blocks. One spray consisted solely of white and red carnations symbols of innocence lost by bloodshed. A book and a cross was given to each baby, blue for the boys, pink for the girls. On each cross was the shape of a hand, cupping a curled babe, as if the Lord's palm was holding the sleeping infant.
As the small coffins (about 2 1/2 ft x 1 1/2 ft) were brought past the podium and the assembled crowd, they were given to funeral grounds keepers who then reverently stacked them in one of three white burial vaults.
After all the caskets were brought forward, a Catholic priest, Father Michael Maher, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Chino Hills, blessed the ground with holy water. The Liturgy of the Word followed. Psalm 23 was read with the responsorial, "The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want". Although the priest said little, his actions spoke volumes. Prayers of the faithful were offered, and the priest led the congregation in the Lord's Prayer.
Next, The Reverend Len Thrush, of the Chino Brethren in Christ church read from the book of Ezra, chapters 9 and 10. In his sermon he spoke about how society had forfeited the wealth of children for the wealth of materialism. His remarks seemed to echo the words of Pope John Paul II in the "Gospel of Life."
A third minister read a poem he had written on the morning he learned that the boxes of dead babies had been found by two boys playing. He connected this with the experience of a parishioner who had a crisis delivery coinciding with the discovery of the babies' remains. How sad to think that it was children playing who first found the boxes! What must have gone through their minds?
After the sermon, the priest blessed the coffins, in preparation for interment. A woman walked to the podium to announce that a single white dove would be released to symbolize the need of all persons to join as one body, to prevent such horror in the future.
Then fifty-four doves were released, one for each spirit of the fifty-four babies. The bagpipes played, "Amazing Grace" and all joined in singing. Young children (or as the minister reminded participants, "those lucky enough to be born after 1973") were invited to come forward, take a blue or pink carnation from an assistant, and place it in one of the three burial vaults.
After the children came forward with their parents, the rest of the crowd formed lines, to approach the vaults. There were more carnations and roses, and each person or family was handed a flower to place on a coffin.
I sought the casket of Teresa Carmen, Teresa being my namesake. Taking my turn to place a flower, I was able to study the coffins up close. Each coffin bore a bronze nameplate. Some people put Teddy bears and toys in the vaults. Some of the "adoptive family" church members placed special notes and bouquets in the vault of "their" child.
Tears flowed. Some hesitated to leave the site. It seemed almost as if by remaining awhile we could somehow assure the babies that even though they had been forgotten by most, they would be remembered by us.
Soon a funeral director announced that the vaults would be lowered into the ground. About fifty stayed to witness the vaults buried under tractor loads of dirt, and the floral sprays arranged upon the mound of earth.
The cemetery also donated a black granite grave marker. The back side of the stone reads: "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 18:10). Above this are the words, "Dedicated to those who did not have the chance to live." An etching features two angels guarding four seated children. On the front side of the granite block is the heading, "Chino Hills babies laid to rest October 11, 1998. These names are recorded on this stone as they are in heaven."
The babies' names are engraved in four columns. Under the names is that familiar passage from Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I consecrated you." An etching of building blocks and a baby's toy decorate the face of the stone.
That is how one conducts a graveside service for the unloved. Cradles of Love arranged this funeral for these discarded infants in the hope that such a service should never again be needed. Because all are God's children, all should be the most wanted and loved of all His creation. All human life must be cherished.
Since the burial, the babies' grave is infrequently visited. Still, this one headstone is a poignant reminder for all who see it of the thousands upon millions of unwanted, unwelcome, unloved children who have died by abortion.
On November 15, the following notice appeared in the Sunday bulletin of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Riverside, California:
"It might be helpful to let people know that efforts to help in burial of the unborn and unloved can take a variety of ways. As of November 5th we now have $378.00 to be used for The Garden of Angels. It is a cemetery within a cemetery at Desert Lawn in Calimesa, CA. It is the final special resting place for abandoned and unclaimed children. They range in age from newborn to five years. [It is] to provide these precious children, who may never had a cradle, a coffin and a memorial service that expresses love, dignity, and value to them. Thank you again for your support."
A Mass in memory of the Chino Hills babies and all victims of the culture of death will be conducted next October 11, the anniversary of the burial service.
Let us pray that all those innocents who did not experience love in this life will intercede for us, so that we may all experience love in the life to come.
Teri Seipel is a librarian at the University of California and hosts a music show at KUCR 88.3 FM.
Keynote Address to Women for Faith & Family Conference, Friday, October 9, 1998
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