On a crisp, autumn morning that marked the 2018 calendar as All Souls Day, Nov. 2, Antonio Sultan walked over to a black marble tombstone on the grass fields within Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. With a soft grin from cheek to cheek, he proudly pointed to the final resting place of the woman he loved so dearly, his beloved mother Maria Sultan. He spoke eloquently of his mom, dancing the words in between petals of distant memories and subtle grief.
“She was a beautiful lady,” he said as he wiped down the marbled imprint of the 99-year-old Haitian woman who was just one month shy of her 100th birthday before she was called into glory. “She took care of us. She worked hard. I miss her.”
His faith bore roots within the Crown Heights parish of St. Gregory the Great – an area that holds a special place for him and his family, including his mother, since it was at that parish where her funeral Mass was held in 2010, despite having lived in New Jersey before passing.
After all the arrangements were completed with the different funeral parlors, his mother’s eternal home would be where the majority of their family still lived: Brooklyn.
“I don’t want to drive to New Jersey to visit my mother,” he added.
Holy Cross Cemetery holds a special place for many who are laid to rest there in two-fold: those who passed away would still have the borough as the background for eternal rest and their families would still be able to visit Brooklyn’s second oldest cemetery in their honor.
“I have my spot there, my sister’s spot there, my daughter’s spot there and a spot for my niece,” said Pearl Morrison, who was referring to the family plot she purchased at Holy Cross when her mother, Doris Morrison, passed in 1978. Both her mother and father eternally rest in the Flatbush cemetery.
Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Pearl said her Catholic roots are the foundation for her life – both now and even after she passes.
“I can’t live without it,” said the parishioner from St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise, Crown Heights.
“I’m from a Catholic family – from generations of Catholics, and in the islands, they have just as we have, our family plot.”
Yet, dig a little deeper and one will find that the common thread that brings together the faithful to a cemetery on a day such as All Souls is the hope for eternal life with God.
Sacred Ground, Sacred Space
“To be able to come together in this sacred ground, this sacred space, is to remember the Church, the memory of our loved ones who have gone before us in faith,” said Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez, who celebrated the SRO Mass at the Chapel of the Resurrection.
“We do so knowing that God continues to awaken our hearts to the mystery of their presence, to recognize the love that was present in their lives and the love of God that continues to live in on our hearts.”
All Souls Day Field Masses were also celebrated in other cemeteries conducted by the Catholic Cemeteries Office: St. John’s, Middle Village; Mount St. Mary, Flushing; St. Mary Star of the Sea, Lawrence, L.I.; St. Charles/Resurrection, Farmingdale, L.I.; and Most Holy Trinity, Bushwick.
For the visitor from Corpus Christi in Woodside, Mary Burkhart she said she made the commute from Queens just for her parents. Even though she doesn’t always get to make the All Souls Day Mass, she knows her brother will.
“It’s a long trip and I’m not a morning person,” Burkhart added as she made her way to the site where her Irish immigrant parents are buried, Margaret and Michael Murray from County Tipperary.
During Mass, what seemed to brighten the spirits of the faithful gathered was the love of God spoken in the Scripture readings and the memories of the loved ones who were called to eternal life.
The second reading for the day came from the New Testament. St. Paul wrote that ‘just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.’
Bishop Sanchez also shared that Christians and Catholics believe that God continues to allow them to have a personal connection with those who have gone before them. More specifically because of the celebration of the mystery of the Eucharist that the living come closest to not only the souls of their loved ones, but to Jesus Christ himself.
As the bishop blessed the faithful as they left the chapel, the same subtle hope, and a simple humble surrender was on the mind of Pearl as she walked toward her family plot. Blooming with life were flowers she planted on the soil next to her parent’s tombstone.
“God has a plan. What can we do? Not a thing.”