Homily of Bishop Daly at the investiture of John Hume as Knight Commander of Saint Gregory

07 Oct 2012

Homily of Bishop Daly at the investiture of John Hume as Knight Commander of Saint Gregory

•           The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI honours John Hume

On 6 October 2012 Mass was celebrated in Saint Eugene's Cathedral, Derry, by Monsignor Eamon Martin, the Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Derry, on the occasion of the investiture of John Hume as Knight Commander of Saint Gregory the Great.  Bishop Edward Daly, Bishop Emeritus of Derry, conducted the investiture and preached the following homily during the Mass:

Right at the beginning of his public life, after calling the first disciples, Jesus set out some of the values he had come to preach and teach.  We read about it in Saint Matthew's gospel, chapter 5, the Sermon on the Mount.  At very beginning of that powerful and inspiring talk, Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the gentle.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right.  Blessed are the merciful.  Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of God.  Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you, rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven'.  It was a social manifesto. Jesus was introducing a new set of values to live by – a counter-culture in an imperial Roman world in which power and wealth were everything.

Almost 2,000 years later, in April 1963, just two months before he died, Pope John XXIII issued his Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terri.  It was an articulation of the Sermon on the Mount in the context of the time – Europe was recovering from two dreadful world wars; two years earlier the Berlin Wall had been erected; just a few months before the encyclical, in October 1962, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States and Russia came close to nuclear war.  Here in Derry, there was widespread discrimination and denial of human rights.  It was a frightening and difficult time.  The Pope explained in this encyclical that conflicts “should not be resolved by recourse to arms, but rather by negotiation”.  He quotes Pius XII and said “Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.”  He further emphasised the importance of respect for human rights as an essential consequence of Christian understanding of men.  He clearly stated, “…every human being has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life…”

Pacem in Terris deals with relationships, the relationship of the individual to the rest of humankind, the respect for the rights of the individual, the relationship between the individual and the state, the equality and mutual respect that there should be between nations, the responsibility of one state to other states, and respect for other faiths and religions.

Pacem in Terris was a wonderful and timely teaching document that inspired many people.  It was a document that awakened many people in the early 1960s to their rights as individuals, to their responsibilities to others; it was a document, above all, that emphasised dialogue in preference to conflict.

John Hume exemplified and constantly articulated those teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and Pacem in Terris.  That is why the present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is honouring him tonight with one of the highest decorations that the Church can offer a lay person, a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great.  Nobody could deserve it more.  Even if there were no formal decoration, it is right that we should honour John here in his own parish.  He is one of the great political figures of the last century.  John has been honoured all around the world – he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1998), Martha Luther King Peace Award (1999), the Gandhi Peace Prize (2001), and countless other awards.  Now he is being honoured by his Church fittingly here in our own cathedral, St Eugene's, John's own parish church, where he served Mass all those years ago, a church where he has worshipped all through his life, and where he and Pat constantly worship to this day.

All during his life, John stood up for the dignity of the individual and for his or her civil and human rights – he did this in a practical and imaginative manner, helping to found the Credit Union here in Derry, leading the Civil Rights Movement in Derry and in the North, articulating and protesting against the injustices that people were suffering and always doing this in a non-violent and democratic manner.  During the 30 years of conflict, like Pope John XXIII, he identified the important relationships at play here, the relationship between the two communities here in the North, the relations between Ireland North and South, the relationship between the island of Britain and the island of Ireland.  It was a very accurate and perceptive analysis of the situation.  He took great personal risks to achieve the peace and was a key individual in bringing that about.  His fingerprints and his language are all over every significant document relating to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the subsequent Northern Ireland Peace Process.

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Again and again John demonstrated to us that there was a non-violent and effective way to address the issues and injustices that confronted us.  He consistently demonstrated and exemplified that there was another way – a way that would not involve bloodshed, fear, destruction, intimidation, misery or thuggery – a way of dialogue rather than armed conflict.  His generosity and selflessness were epitomised in the manner in which he donated the entire cash element of his Nobel Peace Prize equally to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army.

He also endeavoured to persuade people around the world of the justice of our case by intellectual and political and moral argument.  He endeavoured to illustrate that to people in the United States, in Europe, Britain and in the rest of Ireland, endeavoured to educate them on the enormity of the injustices and discrimination being suffered and perpetrated here.  He persuaded them of the rightness of our cause.  He ploughed a lonely furrow for many years.

Almost singlehandedly, he managed to attract the interest of some of the most powerful people in the political and business circles in the United States in the justice of our cause.  He was hugely respected there.  At a time when many people from Donegal and Dublin were afraid to come to Derry, John Hume, persuaded Senators and Congressmen, journalists, opinion makers, and business executives from the United States to come to Derry and to the North and gradually they came to a better understanding of our situation.  As a result, largely thanks to John Hume, the United States had a major influence on the ground-breaking political events in the North in the 1990s.

In Europe, too, particularly in the European Parliament, he carried great weight and earned huge respect.  John was enormously inspired and influenced by his European experience.  He often spoke about the European Union being a powerful example of conflict resolution and embracing diversity and about how the establishment of institutions that would accept and respect diversity was an essential constituent in the quest for peace here.  He was hugely impressed by the manner in which France and Germany had effected reconciliation in the wake of the Second World War.  He also managed to persuade influential people from the continent to come to Derry.  John put our local political problems into an international political context – it was a measure of the man that he was able to look outside the claustrophobic insular politics of the North to see beyond these shores.

And what about Pat?  John Hume’s wife, Pat, and his family have been a wonderful support to John.  Pat Hume is a remarkable human being.  She embodies everything taught in the readings of tonight's Mass.  Ever patient, ever serene, ever wise, she combined and coped with her multitude of responsibilities as a mother of a large family, a full-time teacher, as a wife and political manager without fuss.  Her understanding of constituency work and needs of her constituents was legendary.  All of this was carried out at a time of political turmoil.  John’s political responsibilities meant that he was away from home much of the time.  During all those years, the Hume house in West End Park was a frequently frantic and crowded place – constantly populated by journalists, political activists from various parties and places, and local constituents who required advice or guidance or assistance.  Nothing was a problem for Pat.  She made a major and incalculable contribution to John’s success and still continues making that contribution.  John could not have achieved what he achieved without Pat's support.

I considered myself blessed to have had such a charismatic and inspiring political figure in Derry during my entire episcopate.  During my years as bishop, John was a good friend and valued confidant.  All of us here in Derry and wider afield are indebted to John.  All of us are indebted to Pat.

In calmer and more objective times, when historians look back at the second half of the twentieth century here in the North West, they will certainly look with approval, admiration and appreciation on the leadership, decency, honour and integrity of the work of John and Pat Hume.  I would like to think that their faith was a great support and strength to them at times of difficulty and challenge.

Truly, blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of  God.

I am deeply honoured tonight to be invited to confer this Honour on John Hume on behalf of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.


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