“As the church we have to be here to help people and accompany them in their grief.”
Deacon Mauricio Castiblanco used to spend most of his day traveling to funeral homes around the city, where he blessed families who recently lost a loved one.
But over the past two months, he has been spending much more time outside cemeteries, dressed in a face mask, disposable white overalls and a purple sash decorated with a cross. His mission is to conduct roadside funeral services for victims of COVID-19.
“This is a traumatic way to say goodbye to a loved one,” the deacon said recently as he prepared for a service outside Apogee Cemetery, in Bogota’s working class district of Bosa. Trucks and buses roared by the cemetery’s entrance, next to a major highway.
“It’s difficult,” the deacon said. “But as the church we have to be here to help people and accompany them in their grief.”
The pandemic has changed how burials work in Colombia, especially for people who die from COVID-19.
According to government regulations, coronavirus victims must be taken straight from the hospital to the cemetery in a closed casket, without their families allowed to see the body.
Wakes at funeral homes are strictly banned for victims of the virus; churches are closed, and families aren’t allowed to go into cemeteries, either. Instead, relatives of coronavirus victims must pay their last respects outside cemeteries and watch as a hearse drives past the gates alone, carrying the body of their loved one.
In a bid to make the funerals of coronavirus victims more humane, Deacon Castiblanco and five more deacons who work with a local funeral company have devised services outside cemeteries, where they pray with victim’s relatives, read passages of the Bible and attempt to give coronavirus victims a proper send-off.
The demand for these roadside services has grown considerably over the past two months, said Deacon Castiblanco, who has done up to 14 services in one day outside cemeteries in Bogota.