Meeting Hatred with Love: Burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev

In general, the Catholic Church deals with death and suffering well. In many cities across the country, the Church ensures that the unclaimed dead receive a decent funeral with prayers and dignity.

By most all accounts, the church in Boston under the leadership of Cardinal O’Malley handled the impact of the heinous acts on

Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston
Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston

Marathon Monday with grace and pastoral skill.

Three weeks after the tragic bombings and the surreal events that followed that week, in Watertown (less than a mile from my house), a public debate has begun over what to do with the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26 year old who apparently conceived and executed this criminal act against humanity.

Crowds are protesting outside the funeral home that agreed to take his body.  City officials in Cambridge, MA and across the state are refusing to allow the body to be buried there. Both candidates for US Senate in this year’s special election have chimed in and found a rare point of agreement in standing in opposition to this criminal being buried in the commonwealth. All the while, the body of a human person awaits a final resting place.

This debate is tragic and risks confirming the worst suspicions that many have about Americans. Let us be better than these criminals. Let us meet hatred and the willful destruction of human bodies with respect for life. The body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, should be buried. If no other cemetery will do it, Catholic cemeteries should rise to the occasion. (Note: all of my deceased family members in the USA are buried in the Boston area) At the very least, the Catholic community could leverage its social, political and moral capital (not to mention it’s influence in the funeral industry) to find a discreet resting place for a human body.

The burial of the dead, even the bodies of sinners, is a corporal work of mercy that is central to the Christian life of discipleship. When we bury the dead with respect we honor not the person and their evil and sinful deeds, but the God who created each and every one of us in God’s image. Even the Romans allowed suspected terrorists and murderers to be buried. The precedence that this sets is disconcerting.

Maybe the grave should be unmarked and hidden away as to not create any more conflict, but there ought to be a resting spot. The only way to overcome hated and the sacrilege of human destruction is love.

Let us, as Cardinal Sean O’Malley urged after the event become “a people of reconciliation, not revenge.” The quick and somber burial of this criminal will go a long way in putting feelings of hatred to rest and reminding the world that each and every person has human dignity.  Instead of spending our time protesting outside a funeral home, let us work proactively for healing and the creation of a culture of life around the world.

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