John Hume funeral hears 'his life’s vocation was to be peacemaker for the good of others'

The former SDLP leader is being laid to rest in his native city of Derry
John Hume funeral hears 'his life’s vocation was to be peacemaker for the good of others'
The hearse carrying the body of John Hume arrives at St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry for his funeral.

Former SDLP leader, John Hume, is being laid to rest in his native city of Derry after a funeral mass in which his family heard many tributes to the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Mourners began arriving at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry an hour before the beginning of today's service.

Among those who attended the requiem mass were President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Derry musician Phil Coulter, played The Town I Loved So Well at the end of the service.

Bishop Donal Mc Keown said he knew it wasn’t a local event.

“John belonged here but he also strode the world stage.

“So I also welcome those from around the world who join us on television or social media platforms to pay tribute to a son of this city.

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins (centre) arrives at St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry, ahead of the funeral of John Hume. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins (centre) arrives at St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry, ahead of the funeral of John Hume. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

“Many of you would have wished to be here in person. But that is not possible for reasons far beyond our control.

“And I want especially to acknowledge the many thousands of people from this city and from around the island who would have wanted to show publicly their esteem for John and their gratitude for what he, one of themselves, had achieved.

“Your participation today is as important for John Hume as that of the others here.” 

The world may be looking on, but this is a family in grief and thanksgiving. They are gathered here in a spirit of prayer and they ask you to join them in that prayer rather than just as onlookers at a spectacle. As John Hume knew, living means participating not just observing.

"Thus, we gather - as the family has underlined - in a spirit of prayer that God’s grace, which blessed us through John’s life, will continue to flow abundantly on the people of this island.

“He did not just dream of peace. His life’s vocation was to be peacemaker for the good of others. Because of his past we can face the future.

“A number of those who cannot attend have forwarded messages.

“Before the Liturgy begins, I would like to acknowledge some of those messages to you who are present and to you who are united with us, across this island and across the world.”

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Ahead of the service, Pope Francis paid tribute to Mr Hume.

A statement from the Vatican said: “His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of John Hume, and sends the assurance of his prayers to his family and to all who mourn his loss.

“Mindful of the Christian faith that inspired John Hume’s untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland, his Holiness commends his noble soul to the loving mercy of Almighty God.”

A message from the Dalai Lama was also read during the service.

“I was pleased to be able to meet John during one of my several visits to Northern Ireland,” he said.

John Hume
John Hume

“Indeed, his deep conviction in the power of dialogue and negotiations in resolving the problem in his homeland has been an example of non-violent resolution of issues.

“It was his leadership and his faith in the power of negotiations that enabled the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to be reached. His steady persistence set an example for all of us to follow.

Although my fellow Nobel laureate is no longer with us, his message about peace and nonviolence in the resolution of conflict, no matter how protracted or difficult it may seem to be, will long survive him. He lived a truly meaningful life.

The politician feted around the world as a peacemaker died on Monday at the age of 83 after a long battle with dementia.

In ordinary circumstances, Mr Hume’s funeral would have been expected to draw huge crowds, but numbers will be limited due to coronavirus restrictions.

There were emotional scenes outside St Eugene’s Cathedral on Tuesday evening as Mr Hume’s widow Pat was tightly embraced by family members as she watched her husband’s coffin being carried inside.

A socially-distanced guard of honour made up of SDLP activists watched on as the procession made its way to the doors of the cathedral.

They held candles in memory of the man hailed for his role forging the Good Friday peace accord.

The gesture was replicated in many homes across the island, as people placed candles in their windows in line with a request from Mr Hume’s family.

Mr Hume was a key architect of the Good Friday Agreement and was awarded the Nobel prize for the pivotal role he played in ending the region’s sectarian conflict.

Mr Hume, a former MP, Stormont Assembly member and MEP, led the party he helped found for 22 years.

Family members form a guard of honour as the coffin of John Hume is taken into St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry ahead of his funeral on Wednesday. Picture: PA
Family members form a guard of honour as the coffin of John Hume is taken into St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry ahead of his funeral on Wednesday. Picture: PA

He was a prominent figure in the civil rights campaigns of the late 1960s and also played a leading role in the formation of the credit union movement.

Throughout his political career, he remained steadfast in his commitment to non-violence.

His participation in secret talks with then Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a key catalyst for the nascent peace process.

The SDLP leader faced intense criticism, including some from within his own party, when his dialogue with Mr Adams became public in 1993.

Despite threats to his life, he persisted with his efforts to engage with the republican movement and to convince the IRA to end its campaign of violence.

The highlight of Mr Hume’s career came in 1998 with the signing of the historic Good Friday accord which largely ended Northern Ireland’s 30-year sectarian conflict.

Along with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, now Lord Trimble, Mr Hume was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his contribution to stopping the bloodshed.

In 2010, Mr Hume was named “Ireland’s Greatest” in a poll by Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ.

His death came just six months after that of fellow Good Friday architect and long-time SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon.

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