Deacon David O'Connor addresses family members and friends of deceased in Jesus Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum, Hainesport, during the first Advent Celebration and Heavenly Christmas Tree Blessing Dec. 13. Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese photo
Deacon David O'Connor addresses family members and friends of deceased in Jesus Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum, Hainesport, during the first Advent Celebration and Heavenly Christmas Tree Blessing Dec. 13. Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese photo
" Even though you know they are already gone, there is a connection with their spirit. "

A celebration of hope in eternal life and the joyful anticipation of the Advent season was the focus of the first "Advent Celebration and Heavenly Christmas Tree Blessing" held Dec. 13 in Jesus Bread of Life Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum, Mount Laurel.

About 100 family members of those interred gathered to remember their loved ones, celebrate the Advent season and take comfort in knowing that they are with God in heaven. Family members of the deceased hung frames with pictures of their loved ones on a beautiful white Christmas tree, symbolizing heaven's purity, in the foyer of the mausoleum. The frames, given to the families by cemetery staff, were black with a white flower to symbolize death/purgatory and perfection in heaven, respectively.

Video: Advent Celebration Recital

The tree was then blessed and lit by Deacon David O’Connor, diocesan director of cemeteries.

“With this tree, decorated and adorned, may we welcome Christ among us, and may its light guide us to the perfect Light,” Deacon O’Connor said. He reminded the crowd that it was also a celebration of a second Advent “that has us waiting for the Resurrection of the Dead and the life of the world to come.”

Ann Byrne of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Hainesport, celebrated the memories of both her husband, Thomas, and her son, Sean, who was just 20 years old when he passed away in 2002. Byrne said it brought her a sense of peace and happiness when she was able to move her son into the mausoleum next to her husband after he passed in 2017. 

“It warmed my heart that they were together,” she said. “Every time I come here, it’s such a warm feeling that they are here forever.”

Byrne said the Advent celebration made what is normally a difficult time of year, a little more bearable.

“This makes me feel so good to be here today,” she said. “It’s like I’m spending Christmas with them.”

Jodi and Alex Loughlin of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, were also celebrating the birthday of their daughter, Noelle, who was born and passed away on Dec. 13, 2016.

“It’s always a really difficult time of year,” Jodi Loughlin said. “But at the same time, it’s comforting to know she is with Jesus. Her light continues on.” The Loughlins were joined by their two children, 20-month-old Lily and 1-month old Alexander, and her parents, Phyllis and Bill Schantz.

“It’s such a community feeling here,” Loughlin said. “It makes us a feel a little less alone.”

Cemetery volunteer Charlene Kyle, who was handing out programs at the door, often participates in services and events at Jesus Bread of Life. She said her faith gives her a sense of connection with all those who have passed.

“Even though you know they are already gone, there is a connection with their spirit,” she said.

Following the tree blessing and lighting, those present were treated to a Christmas recital by a harp, violin and vocal trio.

Maria Guzman-Paczkowski, cemetery office manager, said the community event allows those grieving their loved ones to find joy together.

“All of the sudden, the cemetery is not such a dismal place anymore,” Guzman-Paczkowski said.

“It’s a sensitive time of the year, when they miss their loved ones the most,” she added. “They want to be able to come and celebrate Christmas with their loved ones.”

 “These people are with their loved ones,” Deacon O’Connor said. “They feel that presence, and that’s the gift of God.”