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That All May Be One: All Souls Day Draws Together Christians in Asia

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 11/02/15

Here’s something most of us in the West may not appreciate: how the remembrance of the dead every year draws together a distinct minority in parts of Asia: Christians. The faithful put aside whatever differences divide them to honor and remember together those they have loved and lost: 

In major cities in South Asia, the commemoration of All Souls’ Day is a tribute to ecumenism when Protestants and Catholics, a religious minority on the subcontinent, come together at centuries-old British-built cemeteries. On Nov. 2, the day Catholics and Protestants pray for the deceased, thousands of people in major cities in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka flock to common cemeteries. With flowers, candles and special prayers, they gather before the graves that the colonial British built to bury their dead. “It is nice to see the cemetery has turned into a symbol of interchurch cooperation and harmony,” says Father Theotonius P. Rebeiro, chancellor of the Dhaka Archdiocese, commenting about the 16th century Wari cemetery in Old Dhaka. Protestants and Catholics share the space to bury their dead in Dhaka, the capital of Muslim-majority Bangladesh. In other major cities and towns of the subcontinent, such graveyards have come to be commonly known as “Christian cemeteries.” “There are many hundreds” of such cemeteries but no precise figure is available, said Peter Boon, secretary of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, which works to identify, record and conserve European cemeteries on the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia. Thousands of Christians on Nov. 2 come to each of these cemeteries in cities where Christians are a minority among the mostly Hindu, Muslims or Buddhist populations, depending on the country. In Pakistan, Karachi’s Gora Qabristan (white cemetery), built in 1843, stands out for its ecumenical unity during the All Souls’ Day observation. “Some 30,000 people come to pray for their dead and decorate their graves from dawn to dusk on Nov. 2,” Anwar Sardar, secretary of Karachi Christian Cemetery Board, which manages the cemetery, told A wall once separated the Protestant and Catholic parts of the cemetery until 1981, when it was demolished to merge the space, which houses some 300,000 graves.

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