In the past few hours the sad news has come from London of the death of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The Cardinal’s health had taken “a defining turn” in recent weeks; he died peacefully surrounded by family and friends this afternoon aged 85.
Many will remember the Cardinal for his immense wit and gracious sense of humour. He had a beautiful, profound way of making people feel at ease and could convey the most profound messages in simple ways. A giant in stature with a heart to match, the Cardinal’s priesthood was always eminent in his pastoral heart.
Born on 24th August 1932 in Reading, Berkshire, Cardinal Cormac was one of six children. Brian, Patrick and Cormac would each answer the Lord’s call to become priests; Cormac being ordained in Rome in 1956 served in parishes in Hampshire before becaming Private Secretary to Rt. Rev. Derek Warlock, then Bishop of Portsmouth. He then returned to Rome to serve as Rector of the Venerable English College.
As rector he played host to then Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, on his historic visit to Pope Paul VI calling for closer communion between Anglicans and Catholics. This event remained close to the heart of the Cardinal who would later use a homily at Westminster Cathedral to call for closer ties between Catholics and Anglicans. In responding to the news of the Cardinal’s death, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recalled that the Cardinal had been a good friend to Anglicans who would be “remembered with thanks and affection by all whose lives he touched. He was a great raconteur and storyteller, amusing, but always with a purpose. His words and his life drew people to God. His genial warmth, pastoral concern and genuine love for those in his care will be missed, but also celebrated with thanks.”
Cardinal Cormac left Rome in 1977 having been appointed Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, where he remained until he was named Archbishop of Westminster in succession to Cardinal George Basil Hume in the Jubilee Year 2000. Pope John Paul II elevated the Archbishop to the College of Cardinals at a Consistory in 2001. 60 years a priest, 40 years a bishop he was a faithful servant in the Lord’s vineyard.
His deep faith and trust in God was evident to the very end, when he wrote in recent days:
“At this time, the words I pray every night are never far from my thoughts: ‘Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit’. Please tell them that I am at peace and have no fear of what is to come. I have received many blessings in my life, especially from my family and friends.
“I thank God for the many priests, religious and lay faithful who have helped and sustained me in my Episcopal life. Nor should I forget the many Anglican and Free Church colleagues whose friendship I have valued very much.
“Above all, as I now commend myself to the loving mercy of God, I ask them all to pray for me as I remember and pray for them.”
Archbishop George Stack served as auxiliary bishop to the Cardinal prior to becoming Archbishop of Cardiff. Archbishop George has released the following statement regarding the death of his colleague, mentor and friend:
“I join with the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Westminster in praying for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. I send my condolences to his own family who were so close to him, and the wider family of the Church who held him in such high regard.
It was Cardinal Cormac who ordained me bishop in 2001. Before coming to Cardiff, I had the privilege of working with him in Westminster as his Auxiliary Bishop for over ten years. I came to know a man of deep faith, great humility and extraordinary insight. He was always full of compassion, seeking to find what was good in each person. His gentle humour put everyone at their ease in his company.
Last week I was privileged to celebrate Mass with him whilst he was in hospital. He was grateful for all the care he received, both medical and spiritual. He was recollected and calm, ready to take the next step on his journey of faith. He was anxious to see God face to face. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
The episcopal motto of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was “Gaudium et Spes” – “Joy and hope”. He lived that motto to the full.