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Hume, George Basil


Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, 19761999; b. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 1923; novitiate at Ampleforth Abbey 1941; studied at Ampleforth, Oxford (history), and Fribourg University (theology); ordained priest 1950; elected Magister Scholarum for the English Benedictine Congregation 1957, 1961; Abbot of Ampleforth 19631976; appointed by Pope Paul VI to the Metropolitan See of Westminster on Feb. 17, 1976; created cardinal May 24, 976; d. Westminster, June 17, 1999.

Hume was widely regarded as the spiritual leader in Britain at the end of the twentieth century. Part of the legacy he left is the acceptance of the Roman Catholic Church as a native (and not foreign) Church, alongside the Established and Free Churches, thus signaling the demise of any lingering effects of the Penal Laws in Britain.

As abbot of a large monastery at the time of the Second Vatican Council and as archbishop of the premier see in Britain, he was able to maintain peace, stability, and unity within the communities he served. Hume could do this because he listened with great honesty and openness and recognized that whatever tensions there might be, all involved shared a common faith. The last talk he prepared on this theme, under the auspices of the Catholic Common Ground initiative, was called "One in Christ, Unity and Diversity in the Church Today."

His episcopate was marked by a number of significant events. Among these was the National Pastoral Congress (1980), which elicited The Easter People, the bishops' accompanying response. His tenure also saw the publication of The Common Good, which articulated Catholic social teaching for contemporary society (1996), and the publication of One Bread, One Body (1998), which set out teaching on the Eucharist. This latter document was to be useful in making decisions about the admission of non-Catholic Christians to communion, reconciliation, and the anointing of the sick.

Hume served the Church in England and the world in a number of roles. From 1979 to 1999 he was president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. From 1979 to 1987 he served as president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, which was established to deal with social and ethical problems within the European Economic Community. He was also co-chair of the Council of European Churches (Orthodox, Reformed and Anglican Churches). He was a member of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, Congregation of Religious and Secular Institutes, Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law, and the Joint Commission set up by the Holy See and the Orthodox Church to promote theological dialogue between their Churches. He also attended the synods of bishops in 1977, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994 (serving as relator general); and the Extraordinary Synod in 1985.

Ecumenism and Social Justice. Hume played an important role in ecumenism. He began to dialogue with the Orthodox while he was abbot of Ampleforth. Recognizing the special position of the Anglican communion in ecumenical affairs, he made particular efforts to ensure close and developing relationships with the Church of England. His first act as archbishop of Westminster was to lead a group of Benedictine monks to Westminster Abbey to sing Vespers there for the first time since the Reformation. Pope John Paul II 's visit in 1982 was both a celebration for Catholics in Britain and an occasion of great ecumenical significance. During this visit the pope met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and the archbishop of Canterbury at the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket.

In 1987 at an important ecumenical gathering at which plans for new ecumenical instruments were being discussed, Hume urged Catholics to move from "cooperation to commitment" in the search for Christian unity. He subsequently became joint president both of Churches Together in England and of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland.

After the decision of the Church of England to ordain women as priests, large numbers of Anglican clergy petitioned to join the Catholic Church. Rome gave permission for married convert clergy, under certain conditions, to be ordained priests. In his most public initiative (encouraged by the Holy See), Hume managed to ensure that individuals whose conscience led them to the Catholic Church were duly welcomed, but without the cordial relationships with the Church of England being spoiled. At the same time Catholic sensitivities to the introduction of married clergy, and anxieties there might be over priestly celibacy were largely overcome.

A reconciler and bridge-builder, Hume did much to heal wounds between the Jewish and Catholic communities. He was active in promoting understanding with people of other faiths. He was with Pope John Paul II at the gathering of world religious leaders at Assisi to pray for peace (1986).

Hume was deeply committed to matters of justice. His initiative in highlighting certain serious miscarriages of justice in England led to the release of a number of prisoners and to a new system of investigation of such cases. By other initiatives he gave clear guidance on a wide variety of public moral and social issues: life issues, marriage and family life, global poverty and international debt, human rights, homelessness, refugees and asylum seekers, the arms trade and nuclear disarmament, homosexuality, and education. Hume was instrumental in mounting significant seminars in London that discussed topics like business and moral standards in postcommunist Europe (1992), the arms trade (1995), and world debt (1996).

Two weeks prior to Hume's death Queen Elizabeth II presented him with the Order of Meritawarded to individuals of exceptional merit, in the personal gift of the Queen. The Chief Rabbi in England (Dr. Jonathan Sacks) wrote of him in The Times: "He spoke of God in a secular age and was listened to. He articulated clear moral values and his words shone through the relativistic mist. He took principled political stands and was respected for it. He showed that humility has a power and presence of its own."

At the time of Cardinal Hume's death, Pope John Paul II commented on his devoted service, thanking God for "having given the Church a shepherd of great spiritual and moral character, of sensitive and unflinching ecumenical commitment and firm leadership in helping people of all beliefs to face the challenges of the last part of this difficult century."

George Basil Hume was an outstanding figure in the Catholic Church in the latter part of the twentieth century, with an influence far beyond his own country and his own family of faith. He was a leader, a profoundly spiritual, impressively intelligent, a man of great authority. His loyalty to the Church was complete and came from his childlike faith in Christ. Hume always kept in touch with his Benedictine roots; he was described as "someone who turns strangers into friends."

Bibliography: g. b. hume, Searching for God (London 1977); In Praise of Benedict (London 1981); To Be A Pilgrim (London 1984), Towards a Civilisation of Love (London 1988); Light in the Lord (London 1991); Remaking Europe: the Gospel in a Divided World (London 1994); Footprints of the Northern Saints (London 1996); Basil in Blunderland (London 1997); The Mystery of the Cross (London 1998). Mystery of the Incarnation (London 1999). "Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster" in Oremus (Magazine of Westminster Cathedral, Special Edition, July 1999). Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Briefing 29 (July 1999). c. butler. Basil Hume by His Friends (1999). t. castle, ed., Basil Hume, A Portrait (1986). p. stanford, Cardinal Hume and the Changing Face of English Catholicism (London 2000).

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