John Hume, one of the key architects of the Good Friday Agreement, “never lost faith in peace”, mourners at his funeral have been told.
The former SDLP leader and Nobel Prize laureate died on Monday aged 83.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings, there were limited numbers at the funeral Mass in St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry.
Fr Paul Farren said that in life, Mr Hume never kept a distance, got involved and “put everybody first”.
About 100 people – mostly close family and friends – attended the funeral service.
Political dignitaries including First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Micheál Martin and Irish President Michael D Higgins were among the mourners.
Fr Farren, who gave the homily at the Mass, said the long-standing politician always “made peace visible for others”.
“His vision revealed what could be, and with time and determination and single-mindedness and stubbornness he convinced others that peace could be a reality,” he told mourners.
“He never lost faith in peace and he 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.”
Fr Farren added that Mr Hume gave “dignity and life to so many people”, in a time when “small-mindedness and self-focus seems to be the driver” and never put any specific group first.
One of the highest-profile politicians in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years, Mr Hume helped create the climate that brought an end to the Troubles.
He was a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1970 and led the party from 1979 until 2001.
The former Foyle MP and MEP for Northern Ireland, who had dementia and in recent years had lived in a care home in Londonderry, died in the early hours of Monday morning.
Since his death, tributes have been paid from across the world, reflecting his international reputation.
Others in attendance at the funeral included NI Secretary Brandon Lewis, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Alliance leader Naomi Long and former Ulster Unionist MEP (Member of the European Parliament), Jim Nicholson and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
Northern Ireland Tributes from across the world
The Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, presided at the Mass.
He began by reading out a number of messages from global dignitaries, including the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former US President Bill Clinton.
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The Dalai Lama, who met Mr Hume when he visited Northern Ireland on a number of occasions, said he had always shown “steady persistence” for all to follow.
“Although my fellow Nobel laureate is no longer with us, his message about peace and nonviolence in the resolution of conflict, no matter how protracted or difficult it may seem to be, will long survive him,” said the Tibetan spiritual leader, who is also patron of the Derry-based charity, Children in Crossfire.
“He lived a truly meaningful life.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s message said the world had “lost a giant of a politician who was recognised the world over for the immense contribution he made to Northern Ireland”.
His unending determination and courage paved the way for peace and because of all he did then, Northern Ireland is a safer, stronger and better place,” it added.
Former US President Bill Clinton said Mr Hume had “fought his long war for peace” in Northern Ireland and described him as Ireland’s Martin Luther King.
“His chosen weapons: an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence, persistence, kindness, and love.
“With his enduring sense of honour, he kept marching on against all odds towards a brighter future for all the children.”
A message from the Vatican’s secretary of state on behalf of Pope Francis noted Mr Hume’s “untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland”.
Northern Ireland Derry streets quiet as final mark of respect
At the scene: Davy Wilson, BBC News NI
In times more ordinary, this would have been a final farewell to draw thousands to Derry’s St Eugene’s Cathedral.
An occasion to honour a statesman, to remember and to celebrate a peacemaker.
John Hume’s mark is everywhere in his home city.
But, such is the respect bestowed on him in these parts, the streets around the cathedral were largely empty.
Pat Hume, so widely regarded as the great woman behind the great man, had respectfully asked people to stay at home.
Those who did come stood outside the cathedral grounds, solemn and in silence.
U2 singer Bono, who famously stood with Mr Hume and then-Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble in 1998 at the Concert for Yes at the Waterfront Hall – before the Good Friday peace deal was ratified – also sent a message to the service.
“We were looking for a giant and found a man whose life made all our lives bigger,” his message read.
“We were looking for a negotiator who understood that no-one wins unless everyone wins… and that peace is the only victory.
“We were looking for a great leader and found a great servant – we found John Hume.”
Mr Hume’s son, John Hume Jr, then paid a heart-warming tribute to his father.
“For a man who supposedly had only one single transferable speech, dad did a lot of different things in his life,” he told the service.
“He also made us laugh, dream, think, and sometimes look at him and scratch our heads in amazement – and on rare occasions, bewilderment.”
He reflected the importance of his father’s long career in working to secure peace and reach unprecedented political agreement.
Northern Ireland ‘Sweet tooth’
“At this time of planetary fragility, more than ever, he would be urging that we move beyond our flag-based identities, and recognise the need to protect our common home,” said Mr Hume Jr.
“Central to dad’s work was his deep appreciation of human interdependency.
“We all need one another, we all have a role to play, and all our roles are of equal importance.”
His dad’s greatest achievement was “without a doubt” marrying his wife Pat – she “enabled him to reach his full potential”.
Mr Hume Jr also reflected the side of his father that the family saw outside of political life, including his sweet tooth.
“He also kept the Irish chocolate industry in healthy profits for many years. Yorkies, Crunchies, Crème Eggs, Double Deckers, Wispas, you name it, he loved them all,” he said.
“We found it odd, how a man with the intelligence to win a Nobel Prize could seriously believe that Crunchies were less fattening because they are full of air.”
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Mr Hume is survived by his wife, Pat, and his five children, as well as a number of grandchildren.
However his son Aidan, who lives in the United States with his family, was unable to attend the funeral due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
His sister, Mo, read a poem he had composed in memory of his father, which said they were all “incredibly proud” of him for helping make the world a better place.
Before the funeral ended, Derry singer-songwriter Phil Coulter performed an instrumental rendition of The Town I Loved So Well, a song written about Mr Hume’s native city.
Mourners, standing socially distanced, then gave Mr Hume’s family a round of applause before the funeral cortege departed the grounds of the cathedral.
Northern Ireland The Hume Foundation
Meanwhile, the BBC understands plans are well advanced for the creation of a John and Pat Hume Foundation.
The aim of the foundation will be to protect the legacy of the former Nobel Peace Prize winner.
It will also assist those working for reconciliation and peaceful political change in Ireland and around the world.
It is understood the Hume Foundation had been due to launch in May, but the plan had to be abandoned as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the USA, where Mr Hume commanded immense respect, it is common for former presidents and other senior politicians to create institutes or libraries to continue their work after they leave office.
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