The Fort Stockton Catholic Cemetery also known as St. Joseph's Cemetery, held a cleanup day last weekend in order to enforce rules and make the grave sites more organized.
The point of the cleanup was to remove all flowers, decorations. and unauthorized fencing around the grave sites.
The clean up was not without its distractors. Some felt the cleanup went too far in removing items like American flags, as well as symbols including saints and angels.
The clean up was held under rules established in 2001. Priest Lorenzo Hatch said the rules were never enforced.
Hatch said that he learned about the rules and after seeing people put beer and leave bottles on graves. He wanted to make sure the rules were being followed.
“The cemetery is sacred ground,” he said.
Hatch also said that it became apparent that there was a competition on how much stuff could be left on the sites.
“There are a lot of people who lost the sense that it is sacred ground,” said Hatch.
The Catholic church held an informational meeting to discuss why there were having a cleanup day and at certain points it became emotional, he said.
“Opinions and feelings don't apply to rules and regulations,” said Hatch.
One of the meeting attendees, Carmen Lopez, said she was displeased with the meeting because they were unable to talk.
“There was never any opportunity for input,” she said.
Lopez said she didn't agree with not allowing memorabilia for the dead.
“There was no consideration of the culture and customs and traditions of the people who look after their loved ones there,” she said.
Lopez attended the clean up and said that all of their saints and angels were removed, as well as American flags, and just thrown in the trash.
Another attendee, Patricia Gonzales, said that her grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles are buried there and the meeting did not go as she expected.
“I understand the need for the cleanup,” she said. “But that was not the way he should have approached the community.”
Going forward, people will have to follow the rules that Hatch said were given to each person who buried a loved one there.
There will be three flower arrangements per plot, no loose items on the graves, no pictures, toys or food.
All flowers have to be in a saddle attachment or vases that are attached to the grave.
Hatch said that the church doesn't have a lot of money to spend cleaning up all of the items that get blown around the cemetery constantly.
“This cleanup is what most cemeteries already do anyways,” he said.
Hatch recognized that it may feel like a “jolt” right now because it feels sudden but the rules have been in place for years.
Hatch said he has received death threats over the decision and has seen vandalism to the cemetery in the past.
“It's sad that people are going to care and this is what they do,” he said. “It's the fact that people are even talking like that.”