The Italian Almanac

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Ashes Scattering

The Catholic Church in Italy is to issue new rules on cremation that ban scattering ashes outside cemeteries, a statement from the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) said. Italians have traditionally shied away from cremation amid Church disapproval of the practice and a lack of local-government authorisation in most of Italy. But there has been a rise in recent years and last month Turin caused a flap by saying it was going to allow citizens to scatter ashes in the River Po.

At its annual general assembly in Assisi last week, bishops agreed it was time to set firmer guidelines on cremation. In the last statement CEI said that while traditional burials were to be preferred, it did not "reprove" cremation as long as it took place in a cemetery. The scattering of ashes outside graveyards, in the wild for instance, was a gesture that showed "contempt" for the (Catholic) faith and the unacceptable idea that people became "nothingness," CEI said.

The Church formally dropped its ban on cremation in 1983 but Italians were slow to adopt the practice. It has started to gradually gain ground, partly because graveyards are becoming overcrowded, according to the Italian Federation for Cremation (FIC). In 1998, for instance, there were just 3,600 cremations in Italy while in 2007 there were 56,000, FIC said amid last month's Po ashes flap.

Some 87% of ashes are put in cemeteries, about 10% taken home and 2% scattered to the winds over the sea or in the countryside. Seven Italian regions - Val d'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Umbria, Tuscany and Campania - currently allow ashes to be scattered wherever people decide. But Turin went a step farther than most locals wanted last month when Mayor Sergio Chiamparino said ashes could also go into the Po. Local church officials rose up while citizens said they would think twice about drinking tap water, most of which comes from the river.