HAMMOND — Just moments after the lights went out in the local parish hall of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic church Sunday afternoon, a line of young female dancers appeared with faces painted like skeletons and wearing white flowing dresses with small candles burning on top of their heads.
The group then began a dance in celebration of Dia De Muertos, which is more commonly known in this country as Day of the Dead.
Despite the costumes of the dancers and the nearby family altars displaying photos and items in memory of deceased loved ones, the gathering was anything but solemn.
Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican celebration to welcome deceased loved ones back to enjoy time with those still alive and partake of the food, drink and other items they enjoyed while they too were on the earth, said Yvonne Postelmans, a member of the shared parish council for Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the nearby St. Catherine of Siena churches.
"It's like a Fourth of July," she said.
Sunday's gathering also served as a much-needed fundraiser for both churches, which have seen the number of their members plummet over the years and their schools close, Postelmans said.
"We are trying to save our sister church," she said of St. Catherine.
Part of that survival involves changing with the times and serving a changing population in Northwest Indiana that includes a growing number Hispanics with their own traditions, said Dave Skaritka, president of shared parish council.
"We don't want to lose sight of that, especially with parishioners," he said.
Skaritka, who is part Italian, Polish and Czechoslovakian, said traditions such as Day of the Dead are new to him. But he finds similarities in the shared Catholic tradition of an afterlife.
"It's a journey everybody's on," he said.
The Rev. Charles Mosley, who serves both congregations, said this type of celebration is new to him as well, but he had hopes of it helping to mend a fractured society.
"I'm all about bringing everyone together," he said. "We've got too much that divides us."