Dominicans follow own funeral, mourning customs
Burial must take place within 24 hours and mourning lasts 9 days
By Tony Staley
ELIAS PIÑA, Dominican Republic - Truck after flat-bed truck
- each packed with people - inch their way down the street.
Finally they stop in front of St. Teresa of Jesus (Santa
Teresa de Jesus) Church where a single bell tolls with a
Behind a line of mourners, pall bearers carry the coffin
through the gates that open into the church courtyard and up
the 100-foot sidewalk to the open church doors. Inside,
still more mourners wait. More will join them while others
wait on the street.
When someone dies, the body must be buried within 24 hours
because bodies are not embalmed. As a service to
parishioners, St. Teresa sells plain, inexpensive, wooden
coffins. There are two models, costing $45 and $85.
If the family chooses to buy a coffin from the parish, the
pastor, Fr. Michael Seis, a priest of the Green Bay Diocese,
will have some advance notice of the funeral. If not, he
often learns he will have a funeral only an hour before it
If he is not available, one of the sisters from the parish
or a designated lay leader will lead a funeral service. If
no parish leader is available, the funeral procession
continues on to the cemetery without stopping at the church.
Today, Fr. Seis will preside at the funeral, which includes
the proclaiming of Scripture, a homily, Prayers of the
Faithful, the Our Father and the final prayers and blessing
of the body.
The church is nearly full and includes many men - unlike
Sunday Mass. Even more men wait outside for the service to
end and the procession to the cemetery to continue.
As the mourners leave the church they touch hands or grasp
another person's forearm in an exchange of condolences.
Outside, hundreds of mourners - including one man wearing a
Packer cap - resume their procession, slowly and somberly
making their way the last few blocks to the town cemetery.
Townspeople whose houses border the street, sit on their
porches to escape the oven-like heat in their houses and nod
to the passers-by.
At the cemetery, as a sign of respect, the coffin is
immediately carried to the tomb of the first person buried
Nancy Bourassa of Kaukauna, leader of the visiting group of
adults and youth from the Green Bay Diocese, says there's a
reason for that.
"They believe the cemetery belongs to the first person
buried in it, so they go and ask permission to bury this new
person," said Bourassa, who has made several visits to the
That done, the coffin is placed into a cement-block, above-ground tomb, as many in the crowd stand on nearby tombs to watch what is happening. The tomb is sealed immediately.
Meanwhile, others in the crowd slip away to visit the tombs of family members.
Then people drift away and a nine-day mourning period begins. During this novena, the family will receive well-wishers and say the rosary and other prayers, Fr. Seis said. Others may engage in voodoo rites, he said.
"There's lots of mourning during this period, often times quite loud," Fr. Seis said. "Some people even use paid mourners. It can be strange because you can be talking normally to someone and all of a sudden they will loudly cry out for a while. Just as suddenly, they'll stop and resume the conversation where they left off."
On the ninth day, there will be a Mass or some other service to end the mourning, followed by a big meal.
The customary offering to Fr. Seis for presiding at a funeral is 10 pesos - approximately 65 cents.