In religious studies, we asked students to bring photographs and memory items of departed family members or friends to my Middle School Religious Studies class. We all laid them down on a round table. In the center of the table there was a lighted vigil candle. For those who could not bring a photograph or an item to represent the dead, the students wrote the names of the departed on a piece of paper.
Each student was invited to share with a buddy or two the name of the departed, show the photograph or the memory item, and tell an anecdote or story about the dead. After this one-to-one or small group conversation, the students came back together and took turns in announcing the names of the dead. Then, some of the students chose to tell a story or information about the dead. The respectful listening to one another’s story was palpable. I read a short Biblical passage from the Book of Wisdom 3:1-9 (“The souls of the good people are in the hand of God…. They are in peace”), and then we all read together Psalm 23 “The Good Shepherd” (“The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want”). We ended this ritual to remember the dead with a one-minute silence. When we were done with the ritual, they took the chance to stand around the table to see, touch, and converse further about the week-long accumulation of names, photographs and memory pieces of the departed.
The immediate impulse to do this improvised ritual of remembering the dead was the Catholic Christian observance of the All Souls’ Day on November 2nd, when graveyards are visited and offerings of flowers are laid on the tombs. The care, attention, serenity, and sensitivity with which the Middle School students participated in this activity showed that the act of remembering the dead easily transcends cultures, religions, and countries.
By Ven de la Cruz, Religious Studies Teacher Middle School