Cardinal Francis George of Chicago oversaw a burial service Wednesday for 13 impoverished adults and 120 unborn babies whose bodies had been stored at the Cook County morgue for months.
“We commit them to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the cardinal said during the service at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community.
He told the Chicago Sun-Times that burying the dead is “a corporal work of mercy.”
“That’s because everyone is made in God’s image and likeness, and our way of burying people who have gone to the Lord is a way of professing that faith.”
Financial problems at the county morgue meant that the dead went unburied, some for more than a year. Some families did not claim the bodies or couldn’t afford burials.
The backlog at the morgue was so severe that some bodies were stacked on top of each other. At one point there were 363 bodies, though the morgue only has a capacity for 300.
Funeral homes across the county participated in the April 26 services.
During the service, funeral workers placed flowers on the wooden caskets. Small markers will be placed near the graves.
Unclaimed bodies normally stay only two months before being buried in a cemetery that contracts with the county. The state of Illinois stopped providing payments to funeral homes for indigent burials in June 2011, aggravating the problem.
Cook County spokeswoman Mary Paleologos told the Sun Times that the burials cost $52,000.
The archdiocese’s Catholic Cemeteries had offered up to 300 graves and internment services to help the backlog at the Cook County Morgue, the archdiocese said April 23. County officials will use two-dozen of the offered graves.
The Cook County Board has approved a proposal to make it easier to fire the county’s chief medical examiner, NBC Chicago reported.