CHURCH leaders in Ireland have paid tribute to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Northern Irish politician John Hume, who died on Monday, aged 83.
Hume was one of the founding members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1970, which he went on to lead from 1979 until 2001. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with the unionist leader David Trimble, for his part in the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
He served as a Member of the European Parliament, the UK Parliament, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2012, he was made a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great by Pope Benedict XVI. He retired in the same year after being diagnosed with dementia.
The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell, said on Monday: “John Hume will be remembered not only as a significant politician in Ireland, but also for his unambiguous dedication to making political change happen by purely peaceful means.
“Because of the manner of his approach, this required enormous patience and sympathetic understanding, and those of us who are the beneficiaries of his legacy can only regret his passing while, at the same time, being thankful for his gargantuan efforts in the cause of peace and good relations.”
Hume was raised in Derry. His funeral is due to take place on Wednesday in St Eugene’s Cathedral in the city. The Bishop of Derry, the Rt Revd Donal McKeown, said that the death of “one of the greatest peacemakers and champions of social justice of our time will be felt by many people locally and around the world. He dedicated his life to the welfare of this community, at no small cost to himself. . .
“While he strode the world stage, he remained firmly rooted in his local city. It was the specific circumstances that prevailed here in his native city that helped develop his vision for the future. His first-hand experience of injustice and violence and his broad European vision emboldened him to persevere in building bridges and friendships.”
He continued: “John had spent a few years in seminary discerning whether he had a vocation to become a priest. In many ways he always retained that strong Christian sense of being called to be a peacemaker. Because he generated hope for his local community he will be remembered as one of the great local and world figures of his generation.”
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said: “During turbulent and troubled times, John Hume put his shoulder to the wheel in the service of dialogue and peace. He did so for people right across Ireland who lived in fear of the present and in hope of a brighter future.
“His legacy of painstaking dialogue is recognised internationally and was honoured in his lifetime by the joint award with Lord (David) Trimble of the Nobel Peace Prize. The fruit of his legacy remains the Good Friday-Belfast Agreement. We honour his memory, give thanks for his courage and pray for all members of his family.”
The former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Rt Revd David Chillingworth, grew up in Northern Ireland and served his 29 years as a Church of Ireland priest during the heart of the Troubles. He said of Hume on Wednesday: “Never a showy or a band-standing politician — John Hume’s intelligent leadership and dogged persistence were central to Ireland’s long march away from violence and towards peace.
“The most intractable conflicts across the world are those which feed on a tribal mixture of religion, politics, identity and painful memory. John Hume’s example in Northern Ireland showed that even these conflicts can yield their toxic power to determined and long-term efforts in the cause of peace.”
Hume had internationalised the conflict by cultivating friendships with Bill Clinton and Irish-Americans such as Edward Kennedy, Bishop Chillingworth said. The politician also made a “pathway for Sinn Fein and the IRA away from politics through drawing Gerry Adams into talks. He knew that such a process would be messy and that he would be accused of compromise with violence. . .
“For John Hume and the SDLP, the cost was the growth of Sinn Fein as a political force which came to eclipse their own party. Such personal and political sacrifice are rare and precious. They were the essence of the political capacity and the spiritual depth of a truly remarkable man.”
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, wrote on Twitter: “So sorry to hear that #JohnHume has died. A giant in Irish politics. His courage in standing up to IRA violence and building bridges was inspirational. Peace wouldn’t happened without him and my prayers are with Pat and his @SDLPlive family.”
The former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in office when the peace deal was signed, described Hume as “a political titan” and “a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past. His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic, and he will rightly be remembered for it. He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it, and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.”
Hume died in a nursing home in Londonderry after a long illness. He is survived by his wife, Pat, and their children.