Death Of Cardinal Hume: Sorrow at loss of `a great religious leader'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
RELIGIOUS and secular divides were set aside last night as the country paid tribute to Cardinal Basil Hume - described as a man of humility, compassion, wisdom and courage.

The accolades to the Archbishop of Westminster, spiritual leader of the four million Roman Catholics in England and Wales, poured in from every section of the community.

The 76-year-old Cardinal, who had fervently wished to see in the new Millennium - designated a Holy Year by the Pope - had lost his battle against abdominal cancer.

With the serenity which had come to characterise his handling of the inoperable cancer, he slipped away peacefully - his close friends by his side.

The man described by many as a true "English gentleman" was remembered both for the greatness with which he led- and kept together - the Catholic Church in Britain and the humility of his manner.

The extent of his popularity was echoed in a heartfelt tribute from Newcastle United, the football team that Cardinal Hume, a keen sportsman, had supported from boyhood.

Tony Blair led the accolades to a man he described as an inspiration to people of all faiths, while the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, spoke of his "profound sorrow" at the loss of a friend.

"Although he had not been well for some time, Cardinal Hume bore his final illness with a courage, dignity and acceptance which were typical of the man we knew, loved and respected," said Dr Carey.

Buckingham Palace said the Queen was "deeply saddened", while the Duchess of Kent, who became a Catholic in 1994, said it had been a privilege to have known him.

All day, his supporters had been steeling themselves for the worst, aware that he was increasingly weakened by the rapid march of the disease.

Shortly after 5pm, he died, with his nephew William Charles, his private secretary Fr James Curry, and his friend Fr Liam Kelly, at his bedside.

A church spokesman, Fr Kieran Conry, said: "The Cardinal had just been anointed. They were praying with him and he died peacefully and without pain. It is a tremendous blow to the Catholic community. I think the whole country will recognise that we have lost a great religious leader."

Dr William Oddie, editor of the Catholic Herald, said: "We knew it was coming and had prepared ourselves in our minds. But it has come sooner than we expected and a lot of people will be thinking that at least he has not suffered 12 months of agony. The Catholic Church will never be the same. He was unique in many ways."

Other denominations were quick to offer homage. The Free Churches' Council described Cardinal Hume as a man who earned the respect of all fellow Christians.

The Rev Douglas McBain, president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said the pain felt by Catholics was shared by every section of the Church. "We all feel that we have been deprived of a true friend, " he said.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, said he felt "personal shock" at the news. Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of Scotland's Catholics, described Cardinal Hume as an "inspirational" man with a "gentle soul".

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady, said: "He used his great qualities of heart and mind tirelessly in the pursuit of peace and justice for all."

Ordinary Catholics flocked to Westminster Cathedral last night, which stayed open late for prayers. St Edward's bell tolled slowly as the bishop's coat of arms was taken down until a successor is appointed.

But it was not just the devout who came to praise him. A Newcastle United spokesman said: "He was a greatly valued fan who will be sorely missed. We know he kept up with the team whenever he could and we understand he was an ardent viewer of Match of the Day whenever the team was featured."

Michael Ancram, the Tory Party chairman, who was taught by the Cardinal as a schoolboy, described him as an "exceptional person" who was a "stalwart in the fight against injustice".

"My recollections of him are always of the warmth of the man," said Mr Ancram. "He was a great friend, he had a tremendous sense of humour. He was a great sportsman ... someone who lived life to the full and lived it in a very Christian way."

Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, said the Cardinal was "a kind and gentle man" who led the Church "in his own unassuming way".

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, praised him as a man of tolerance who had "reached beyond the confines" of the his church.

Cardinal Hume announced two months ago that he was suffering from inoperable cancer. But he told his priests and bishops: "I have no intention of being an invalid until I have to submit to the illness."

At the end of May, he bowed to the inevitable and entered the Catholic Hospital of St John and Elizabeth, central London.

Cardinal Hume won respect and affection across the denominations. He was regarded as a dignified and eloquent religious leader who showed skill in promoting dialogue with other churches.

He faced the toughest test of his leadership six years ago when thousands of Anglo-Catholics abandoned the Church of England after its acceptance of women priests. Cardinal Hume resolved the situation by accepting married Anglican churchmen for ordination into the otherwise celibate Catholic priesthood. Cardinal Hume, formerly Abbot of Ampleforth, the Benedictine monastery in North Yorkshire that runs therenowned Catholic school, was initially reluctant to accept the job of Archbishop. Due to retire a year ago, at the age of 75, he stayed on at the Pope's insistence.

A monk from the age of 18, he often spoke of his desire to return to end his days in the monastery at Ampleforth and to be buried in a simple monk's habit.

Obituary, Review page 6