Nobel laureate John Hume was invested as a Papal Knight at a ceremony in St Eugene’s Cathedral on Saturday evening.
The honour was conferred on Mr Hume by the retired Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Edward Daly in front of a large congregation of Mass goers.
The former SDLP leader is now a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great, one of the highest honours the Church can bestow on a lay person.
Derry Diocesan Administrator, Monsignor Eamon Martin, was the chief celebrant at the Mass while Dr Daly preached the homily and conducted the investiture, placing the Papal medal around Mr Hume’s neck.
In his homily, Dr Daly, praised the Nobel prizewinner, and said no one was more deserving of the honour of a Papal knighthood.
“He is one of the great political figures of the last century,” he said. “John has been honoured all around the world - he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King Peace Award, the Gandhi Peace Prize and countless other awards. Now he is being honoured by his Church, fittingly here in our own cathedral, St Eugene’s, John’s own parish church, where he served Mass all those years ago, a church where he has worshipped all through his life, and where he and Pat constantly worship to this day,” Dr Daly praised Mr Hume’s commitment to peace down the years. “Again and again John demonstrated to us that there was a non-violent and effective way to address the issues and injustices that confronted us. He consistently demonstrated and exemplified that there was another way - a way that would not involve bloodshed, fear, destruction, intimidation, misery or thuggery - a way of dialogue rather than armed conflict. His generosity and selflessness were epitomised in the manner in which he donated the entire cash element of his Nobel Peace Prize equally to the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army,” Dr Daly added.
The Bishop also said Mr Hume’s fame stretched beyond Ireland. “He also endeavoured to persuade people around the world of the justice of our case by intellectual and political and moral argument. He endeavoured to illustrate that to people in the United States, in Europe, Britain, and the rest of Ireland, he endeavoured to educate them on the enormity of the injustices and discrimination being suffered and perpetrated here. He persuaded them of the rightness of our cause.
“He also managed to persuade influential people from the continent to come to Derry. John put our local political problems into an international, political context - it was a measure of the man that he was able to look outside the claustrophobic insular politics of the North to see beyond these shores,” he said.
Dr Daly also praised Mr Hume’s wife, Pat, for her “incalculable contribution to John’s success” over the years.
Paying a personal tribute to Mr Hume, Dr Daly said; “I considered myself blessed to have had such a charismatic and inspiring political figure in Derry during my entire episcopate.
“During my years as bishop, John was a good friend and confidant. All of us here in Derry and wider afield are indebted to John,” he said.
Mr Hume said he was honoured to receive such an award from Pope Benedict XVI. “I’m obviously very honoured to receive this award, but I see it not as an award to me but to the people of Derry. If it hadn’t been for the great support from the people of Derry, I wouldn’t have been able to have represented them or did anything I did achieve,” he said.
Foyle MP Mark Durkan also congratulated Mr Hume on his award. “This is another welcome and well-deserved acknowledgement of John Hume’s single contribution to Irish and international life.”