There was spontaneous applause outside St Eugene’s Cathedral, this afternoon, as the remains of the Nobel peace laureate, John Hume, were placed into a hearse following his Requiem Mass in Londonderry. Onlookers outside the church railings began clapping, surprising members of the Hume family and other mourners, who turned to those applauding and signalled their appreciation for the gesture.
The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, joined the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Eamon Martin, the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown and Rev Canon Dinny McGettigan at the front of the cathedral for a service that was broadcast live on television and online.
Attendance in church was restricted to around one hundred mourners because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The mourners were led by Mr Hume’s widow, Pat, and four of their five children. Their eldest son, Aidan, who lives in Massachusetts, did not fly home because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions and followed the funeral online instead.
Among the political leaders present at the Mass were the Irish President Michael D Higgins, the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Republic’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. The Queen was represented by the Lord-Lieutenant of the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey.
Others in attendance included the current SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, former leaders Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell and Baroness Ritchie, Alliance leader Naomi Long, former Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson and the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
Bishop McKeown read out messages from dignitaries including the Pope, the Prime Minister, the Dalai Lama and former US President Bill Clinton.
Boris Johnson said the world had lost “a giant of a politician” whose unending determination and courage had paved the way for peace. Northern Ireland was a safer, stronger and better place because of what Mr Hume did, the Prime Minister said.
President Clinton described John Hume as Ireland’s Martin Luther King and said his chosen weapons were “an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence, persistence, kindness, and love”.
A message shared on behalf of Pope Francis praised Mr Hume’s “untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland”, while the Dalai Lama said his fellow Nobel laureate’s message about peace and non-violence in the resolution of conflict would long survive him.
U2 singer Bono also sent a message. “We were looking for a giant and found a man whose life made all our lives bigger,” he wrote. “We were looking for a great leader and found a great servant – we found John Hume.”
Mr Hume’s son, John, delivered a moving eulogy which drew applause from the congregation. He provoked laughter when recalling his father’s famous sweet tooth and expressed pride in his father’s achievements.
“If dad were here today, in the fullness of his health, witnessing the current tensions in the world, he wouldn’t waste the opportunity to say a few words. He’d talk about our common humanity, the need to respect diversity and difference, to protect and deepen democracy, to value education, and to place non-violence at the absolute centre.
“He might also stress the right to a living wage and a roof over your head, to decent healthcare and education.”
In his homily, Fr Paul Farren compared Mr Hume to the Good Samaritan, who had “crossed the road” to help someone whom he regarded as a neighbour and friend.
“We should never underestimate how difficult it was for John to cross the road and do what was intensely unpopular for the greater good,” Fr Farren said. “Even in the darkest moments, when people would have been forgiven for having no hope, John made peace visible for others.
Fr Farren said John Hume never lost faith in peace and never lost faith in his ability to convince others that peace was the only way. “If ever you want to see a man who gave his life for his country, and his health, that man is John Hume,” he said, “and the world knows it.”
Fr Farren also referred to Mr Hume’s political achievements which, the priest said, had saved many lives. “There are people alive today who would not be alive but for John Hume’s vision and work. And it could be any one of us.”
Mr Hume – who was a founder member and former leader of the SDLP, former Foyle MP and Northern Ireland MEP – died on Monday at the age of 83. He was laid to rest in Derry’s City Cemetery in a simple wicker casket.