By Paula Katinas and Michael Kelly
WINDSOR TERRACE — John Hume, the Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner who died on Aug. 3, was hailed in the Diocese of Brooklyn for his efforts to help end years of strife and bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
Hume, who was Catholic, was mourned by Irish-American Catholics in the diocese, many of whom remember his work.
“He was able to walk a fine line between the different parties and that wasn’t easy in Northern Ireland at the time,” said Gerard McCabe, chairman of Irish American Building Society Charities, an organization that works to assist people in need and promote Irish culture and education.
Hume is credited with convincing the Provisional Irish Republican Army to declare a cease-fire in their conflict with the British in 1994 and with being the principal architect of the Good Friday peace agreement four years later.
The bloody conflict, which came to be known as “The Troubles,” centered on the status of Northern Ireland and pitted Catholics against Protestants.
The northern part of Ireland operated under British rule. For the most part, Protestants wanted to remain with Great Britain while most Catholics wanted to break free and become a part of the Republic of Ireland.
The conflict was punctuated by bloodshed and bombings that took place for more than 30 years.
The Good Friday agreement, which Hume helped draft, delicately threaded a needle. The document acknowledged that the people who wanted to break free from Great Britain and join the Republic of Ireland had a legitimate argument. At the same time, the agreement declared that such a move could only occur with the consent of the majority of people in Northern Ireland.
Hume’s commitment to peace-building was recognized in 1998 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble, then the most influential politician in the Protestant community in Northern Ireland.
In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Hume also received the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, making him the only person to win all three major peace awards.
The Catholic Church honored Hume in 2012 when Pope Benedict XVI conferred him with a papal knighthood.
“He had a very strong Catholic faith. And I think that carried him through in all of his dealings,” said McCabe, who knew Hume personally.
Father Christopher Heanue, coordinator of the Irish Apostolate for the Diocese of Brooklyn, never met Hume but said he admired the fact that he strived for peace. “The desire for peace and unity are part of our Catholic values. He had qualities that could be emulated by all people,” Father Heanue said.
Hume traveled a round-about route to the peace table, according to McCabe. “He was going to be a priest. Then, he became a teacher. He was a teacher before he went into politics. As nice a guy as he was, he could also be a tough politician,” he said.
Hume served as the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland from 1979 to 2001. Catholic leaders praised his legacy.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, hailed Hume as a “paragon of peace” for his role in bringing an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
“A great sadness has descended on my home city of Derry today as we learn of the death of one of our greatest sons, Mr. John Hume,” Archbishop Martin said on Aug. 3.
“Today, we are remembering a paragon of peace, a giant of a statesman whose legacy of unstinting service to the common good is internationally acclaimed, even though it is still perhaps only unfolding,” the archbishop added.
Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry described Hume as “one of the greatest peacemakers and champions of social justice of our time” and said he dedicated his life to the welfare of this community.
Irish President Michael Higgins also heaped praise on the late John Hume.
“All of those who sought and worked for peace on our island of Ireland, and in the hearts of all, will have been deeply saddened by the passing of John Hume, Nobel Peace laureate and statesman,” Higgins said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Hume “stood proudly in the tradition that was opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.”
With Hume’s death, “we have lost a great man who did so much to help bring an end to the Troubles and build a better future for all,” Johnson said.
John Hume was to be buried Aug. 5 after a Mass in St. Eugene Cathedral in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.