'This is the only place that allowed us to stay': Group camps in cemetery

Tents are pitched in a South Philadelphia cemetery where a group from Newark is camping. (Amy S. Rosenberg / staff)

One group of pilgrims from Newark has spent the weekend camping out in the cemetery of the old Trinity Lutheran Church at 18th and Wolf Streets, now the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Trinity.

Their tents were pitched among the gravestones of the South Philadelphia cemetery, which upset some neighbors and some whose family members were buried there.

"This is where my parents are buried and the church saw fit to allow pilgrims to pitch a tent on their graves," said Ger Talarico. "They could have gone to numerous school yards, parking lots or playgrounds."

"This is so upsetting," Janice Giffear-Mormello wrote in a Facebook post, where video of children running in the cemetery had been posted. Others called the accommodations disrespectful: "My father and husband are buried there!! Let them camp inside not run and sleep all over people's loved ones grave sites."

Orlando Baez, a salesman who slept in a sleeping bag amid the gravestones, said the group from Saint Columba meant no disrespect. They were unable to find other lodging and the church offered, he said.

They have set up folding chairs along the driveway for morning services, and are using the bathroom in one of the cemetery buildings. The cemetery remains locked all night when they're there.

"This is the only place that allowed us to stay," Baez, a salesman said Sunday morning, as most of the group slept in an array of colorful tents pitched among the tombstones. "It's not like we don't respect the people. I'm lying there, thanking them."

Baez said the group, affiliated with the Neocatechumenal Way, stuck two little flags from the World Meeting on the gates of the cemetery, saw Pope Francis along the Parkway Saturday and would return for the Mass.

"It means a lot, especially for the children," he said.

Others in the Girard Estate neighborhood were more tolerant.

"I guess if my parents were there, I'd be upset," said Marann Faunce, walking by Sunday morning. "But at the same time, they're seeing something good. It's not like they're here for a concert, they're here for the pope."