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10/30/2012 10:58:00 AM
Green burial option kinder to earth
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
A marker shows entry to green burial area at Portland's Mount Calvary cemetery.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
A marker shows entry to green burial area at Portland's Mount Calvary cemetery.

The way we handle death can harm the environment.

Cremation uses lots of fossil fuel and gives off greenhouse gases. And until now, cemeteries have meant buried heavy metals, interred toxic fluids and large lawns that consume water and take fertilizer.

Mount Calvary Cemetery in the hills above Portland has a new answer: green burial.

Cemetery staff have created a quiet wooded section with 120 graves and special rules meant to be respectful to the body and kind to creation. The section overlooking the Tualatin Valley is named for St. Francis of Assisi, who understood creation as a way to meet God.

There are no concrete forms in the ground and caskets used in the section must be built of wood. Shrouds can be used and must be made of cotton or other natural fibers. Bodies cannot be embalmed, a process that uses poisonous chemicals.

Grave decorations can be cut flowers, but families can choose from a list of native flora that will be planted. Natural stones inscribed with names and dates can be placed on the grave; the names of those buried in the section also will be engraved on a large marker at the entry point.

The area won’t include grass and paths, but will be left mostly natural. As families plant memorial vegetation, nature will reclaim the parcel, which will become a permanent forest preserve.

Green burial can be “completely consistent with Catholic beliefs,” says Tim Corbett, superintendent of Catholic cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Portland.  

"While death and caring for the body possibly are among the most natural occurrences in the world, modern death rituals — embalming with toxic chemicals and traditional burial in concrete vaults — are not nature-friendly," says Elizabeth Fournier, of Clackamas County-based Cornerstone Funeral Services and Cremation.

Fournier, a St. Mary's Academy graduate, says  natural burial is the way most of humankind has cared for the dead since the beginning of recorded time.

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