Thank goodness that Gaddafi has now been buried, and thank goodness the shameful and awful spectacle of his corpse on public display in a meat storage plant is now over. It went on too long, five days too long.
The treatment of the dead Colonel Gaddafi reminded me rather of the treatment of another fallen dictator, Benito Mussolini, whose body, along with that of other fascist gerarchi, and that of his mistress Claretta Petacci, was exposed in Piazzale Loreto, Milan, where it was subjected to public insult. The choice of Piazzale Loreto for this was in revenge for the shooting of fifteen partisans by the Fascists in the same square the summer before. Their bodies too had been exposed. In general, Italians pay great respect to the dead, and the events in Piazzale Loreto do not reflect well on either the Italian Left or the Italian Right. In fact the treatment of Mussolini’s body must have been seen very rapidly as a disgraceful act, for his corpse, after several adventures, was eventually given to the family and provided with proper Christian burial.
Mussolini did a lot of bad things, as did Gaddafi, but one should not grudge him a proper burial, which is surely the right of every human being, and that includes Gadaffi too.
It is soon going to be the month of November, and burial and death are much on my mind. Let us remember that the burial of the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy. Thus by going to a funeral, one gains merit with Almighty God, quite apart from exercising charity to one’s neighbour in expressing solidarity with the bereaved.
November is also the time to visit graves, the graves, in particular, of those one has known, or members of one’s family, but the graves of strangers too. The visiting of graves and the blessing of cemeteries is in fact a pious Catholic custom, and one that is to be preserved. Moreover, to visit a cemetery within the octave of All Souls earns a plenary indulgence, under the normal conditions, applicable to a soul in Purgatory. Likewise, a visit to a church on the feast of All Souls itself will gain a plenary indulgence, likewise under the normal conditions, also applicable to a soul in purgatory. There is a complete and helpful list of all indulgenced acts here.
One can only gain one plenary indulgence a day. This is a relatively recent ruling. In one of novels making up Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy (I cannot remember which) Guy Crouchback encounters a fellow Catholic darting in and out of church, pausing on the pavement between ‘visits’, who explains “I always like to do thirty.” These days one can only do one. I myself will certainly try to do one, and I will leave it up to God, as I usually do, as to which soul in purgatory benefits. I am sure that lots of Catholics around the world will be doing the same, though sadly, not as many as once did.
I will certainly be praying for all the dead on the 2nd November, and saying at least two Masses that day (one can say three). Among those dead Gadaffi will be remembered. May God, who is so good, be good to him too.
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