IN MEMORIAM – Diana, Princess of Wales
As the twentieth anniversary of the death of Princess Diana approaches, many of us remember where we were on hearing that fateful news.
I was at Westminster Cathedral, listening to the World Service of the BBC early that Sunday morning of 31st August 1997. As the news became increasingly sombre, culminating in the announcement of her death, it was obvious to me that we were going to have an unprecedented day ahead. I got up at 5am, re-wrote my homily and drafted new Bidding Prayers in preparation for the first of the seven Masses which would be celebrated that day. Even at the 7am Mass the congregation was enormous. At the Solemn Mass at 10.30am there was standing room only in the Cathedral. As they day wore on, our usual congregation of 5000 swelled to almost 10,000. Almost everyone seemed to want to light a candle. The Cathedral was aglow with votive candles lit in every chapel. I remember well the reading from the New Testament given for that Sunday. It came from the first chapter of the Letter of St. James: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Later that evening I represented Cardinal Hume at a hastily arranged Songs of Praise broadcast by the BBC from St. Paul’s Cathedral. The television screens in the St. Paul’s showed the haunting moment when the plane carrying her body from Paris touched down at RAF Northolt whilst the Cathedral choir sang extracts from Faure’s Requiem.
One week later, on the night before her funeral at Westminster Abbey, Cardinal Basil Hume offered Mass for the repose of her soul. Once again, the Cathedral was filled to overflowing. Chief amongst the mourners was the mother of the late princess, Mrs. Frances Shand-Kidd. She was remarkable in her steadfast faith and composure. I am regularly asked if a copy of the Cardinal’s homily might be available, it is included below as a download to mark the 20th anniversary of the extraordinary events surrounding the death and burial of Princess Diana.
As the procession left the Cathedral at the conclusion of the Mass, word spread amongst the congregation of the death of Mother Teresa in India. Having met each other on a number of occasions these two women, each one famous in different ways, not least in reaching out to those in need, were intextricably bound at the moment of death just a few days apart. Following a visit to one of Mother Teresa’s convents in Calcutta, Princess Diana reputedly wrote the following letter:
“Today, something profound touched my life. I went to Mother Teresa’s home and found the direction I have been searching for all these years. The sisters sang to me, a deeply spiritual experience and I soared to such heights in my spirit. The light shone from within these ladies,saints for want of a better word, such love came from their eyes, and their touch was full of warmth. They sang the Lord’s Prayer, and with our shoes off, we knelt in prayer together”.