‘Sorry we can’t bury your loved ones’: Rome funeral directors protest against Italian red tape

Funeral home operators staged a protest in Rome on Friday over a desperate situation they say has left almost two thousand coffins in the Italian capital waiting weeks - or even months - to be cremated.

'Sorry we can't bury your loved ones': Rome funeral directors protest against Italian red tape
Funeral home workers hold placards that read, "Apologies but they won't let us bury your loved ones", as they protest at the ancient Roman "Hercules the Winner" circular temple against the disruption of funeral services due to the increasing number of deaths caused by Covid-19. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

While coronavirus has not helped the situation, the increase in deaths and limited access to public services caused by the pandemic has only exposed a long-standing problem blamed on Italy’s old nemesis – bureaucracy.

“We appeal to the mayor of Rome to end the current procedures needed to authorise a cremation,” Giovanni Caccioli, national secretary of the Italian Federation of Funeral Homes, told AFP at the protest.

Standing alongside their hearses, the funeral workers laid wreaths around the Roman Temple of Hercules Victor, near Mayor Virginia Raggi’s office, with notices reading: “Sorry, they will not let us bury your loved ones.”

According to Caccioli, Rome registers around 15-18,000 requests for cremations every year, for which families must go through a “tortuous” bureaucratic journey involving the local cemetery, the municipal agency AMA and the registrar office.

Earlier this week, a bereaved son, Oberdan Zuccaroli, staged a very personal protest by putting up billboards around Rome with the message: “Mum, sorry I’ve not been able to have you buried yet.”

But he is far from the only one for whom the delays have exacerbated the pain of losing a loved one.

“It’s been three months that I’ve been waiting for my husband’s cremation, and still nothing has been done,” said Lorella Pesaresi, whose husband died in January after testing positive for coronavirus while undergoing chemotherapy.

“It’s not fair – coronavirus and now this,” she told AFP.

READ ALSO: More people died in Italy in 2020 than in any year since World War II

A hearse covered with posters reading: “Apologies but they don’t let us bury your loved ones” is parked near the Ancient Roman “Hercules the Winner” circular temple. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

‘We can’t go on like this’

Caccioli said the paperwork to obtain a cremation permit was still done by hand, and the process took on average 35 to 40 days in Rome, “an absurd situation”.

He noted other cities did it in one or two days, adding: “We can’t go on like this.”

Maurizio Tersini, who runs Le Sphinx funeral home, says around 1,800 coffins are currently waiting to be incinerated in Rome.

“The main problem is a bureaucratic one,” the 59-year-old told AFP, adding: “It is a great suffering for the families.”

However, it is not a new problem. The Cgil trade union warned in September that hundreds of coffins were piling up at Rome’s Prima Porta-Flaminio cemetery after one of the other two main cemeteries in the city, Laurentino, ran out of space for burials.

“They didn’t do what was decided in 2017, which was to build four new crematoriums and expand Laurentino,” the head of Cgil in Rome, Natale Di Cola, told AFP on Friday.

The situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has claimed more than 116,000 lives in Italy, according to the official toll – although Rome has not been as hard hit as other regions.

“What was a crisis became chaos,” Di Cola said. AMA, the city hall agency that manages the cemeteries, said in a statement earlier this week that the situation was under control and that efforts were continuing to free up burial spaces.

It added that it had been confronted with a 30 percent increase in deaths year-on-year during the period from October 2020 to March 2021.

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VIDEO: Huge fire breaks out at Rome’s Cinecitta studios

A fire broke out on Monday at Rome's legendary Cinecitta film studios, destroying a set but causing no injuries, emergency services said.

VIDEO: Huge fire breaks out at Rome's Cinecitta studios

Three teams of firefighters were on the site southeast of the Italian capital, which in its heyday was frequented by some of the country’s greatest stars, from Federico Fellini to Sophia Loren.

“A fire has broken out in an area where a set was being decommissioned,” a spokesman for Cinecitta told AFP, adding that nobody was injured.

READ ALSO: Italy is burning – but many wildfires could be prevented

Firefighters said “much of the papier-mache reconstruction has been destroyed” on the affected set, which depicted Renaissance Florence, but that the flames were limited and under control.

Local residents posted photos and video to social media showing thick clouds of smoke above the complex.

The fire disrupted filming of a Charlize Theron movie, the sequel to Netflix film ‘The Old Guard’, according to production coordinator Natalia Barbosa.

She told AFP the fire grew rapidly amid high winds and soaring temperatures and the set was evacuated as a precaution.

“We’ve lost two days of filming,” she said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, although much of Italy is a tinderbox this summer due to heatwaves and a severe drought.

Cinecitta suffered a major fire in August 2007, in a warehouse where the sets of television blockbuster ‘Rome’ were stored, before spreading to other buildings in the vast complex.

Cinecitta – which means ‘city of cinema’ in Italian – has been the backdrop of more than 3,000 films, including 51 Oscar winners.

The studios were opened in 1937 to churn out propaganda for the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini.

They were later used to make such classics as William Wyler’s ‘Ben-Hur’ in 1959 and Fellini’s 1960 ‘La Dolce Vita’.

In recent decades, major productions have become more scarce, although the studios are planning a major makeover using money from the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery fund.