Cardinal Hume, `a true holy man', dies

"ABOVE ALL, no fuss," said Cardinal Basil Hume two months ago in the quiet, dignified letter he wrote to his priests telling them he had abdominal cancer which was "not in its early stages". Last night, aged 76, he died peacefully in his sleep in the Catholic Hospital of St John and Elizabeth, in central London.

He was leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales but began his religious life as a Benedictine monk. He ended it yesterday with the simplicity characteristic of his order, quietly, with just two priests at his bedside.

"He was goodness personified, a true holy man with extraordinary humility and an unswerving dedication," said Tony Blair. "He did much to inspire people of all faiths, and none." Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury. said: "For many ordinary people, Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers, it was his personal qualities, especially his humility and compassion, that gave him a special place in their hearts."

George Hume - the name Basil was his monastic one - was born in Newcastle, the son of a Scottish Protestant father and a French Catholic mother. But his gentle spirituality, his doctrinal orthodoxy and his patrician inclination towards understatement were all products of his education at the English public school Ampleforth, in North Yorkshire. Taught by monks he decided to become one.

Thirteen years after being ordained a priest there he was elected abbot, steering the naturally conservative institution through the revolution of the Second Vatican Council whose abolition of 15 centuries of Latin liturgy was symbolic of a change which turned Roman Catholicism upside down. He did so with success, he said, because his head was progressive but his heart was conservative.

Those were the same qualities which he brought to his 23 years as Archbishop of Westminster. They enabled him to mediate the hardline which often came down from Rome, under an increasing centralised and autocratic Pope, with the result that England and Wales were never subjected to the splits which characterised the Catholic church in other parts of the world.

His upper-class background gave him easy access to the Establishment. The Queen became the first monarch to visit Westminster Cathedral and conferred upon him the most prestigious award in her personal gift, the Order of Merit. He left hospital two weeks ago to receive it.

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