Pope Francis thanked Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor for his “good humour” and acknowledged his “humanity and lightness of touch” during their last telephone conversation together while the cardinal was in hospital, mourners at his parish church in Chiswick, West London heard on Monday (11 September).
Delivering the homily at a Vigil Mass for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor in Our Lady of Grace and St Edward’s Church, Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth said that for his part, the cardinal expressed his “gratitude and encouragement” to his friend, Francis.
“Pope Francis assured Cormac of his prayer and blessing, thanked him for his accompaniment and his friendship, and then added, “Especially, I thank you for your good humour,” the bishop said.
Members of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s family, priests and parishioners packed into the church in Chiswick
Bishop O’Toole told the congregation that the cardinal had lived very happily for nine years in the parish to which he retired and was “very grateful to be a pastor in this setting.” The bishop said that he had been “thoroughly focused” on making the last act of his dying “a culmination of how he’d lived his life, with great openness of heart, with humility, and with a very deep, rock-like faith.”
“Cardinal Cormac wanted this mass and his funeral rites at Westminster Cathedral, not to be a celebration of his life or a record of his personal history, but an expression of his faith, a faith which did not fear the reality of death but saw in it the opportunity to be finally united with his Lord,” the bishop added.
Bishop O’Toole said the cardinal had an undimmed eye that also had a twinkle in it. He recalled that when he accompanied the cardinal to engagements, before going in, the cardinal would comb his hair in the mirror, brush down his cassock, then nudge his arm and say: “Now remember, your task is to get me out of here as quickly as possible!”
To laughter, the bishop said: “I suspect that as he is now accompanied by his guardian angel through purgatory, he's got that twinkle in his eye, and is giving them a nudge, and saying, ‘Remember, your job is to get me out of here as quickly as possible’.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor died at the age of 85 on Friday 1 September. He had been seriously ill in hospital after his health took a “defining turn” in August. His funeral will take place on Wednesday. His remains will be received into Westminster Cathedral on Tuesday morning, before lying in state throughout the day.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols will celebrate Solemn Vespers at 5pm on Tuesday evening and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham will preach.
The Requiem Mass, which will be a ticket-only event, will take place at noon on Wednesday and the cardinal will be buried at the tenth Station of the Cross in the Cathedral. Cardinal Murphy-Connor requested the burial location “so that people would pray for him as they passed by on the way to the Lady Chapel, to the sacristy, or to the confessional,” according to Bishop O’Toole.
“Cardinal Cormac knew he was dependent on God’s mercy, in death as in life,” the bishop continued. “We know he was honest in facing his limits, particularly in the area of child protection. He recognised his mistake and sought to put in place, ways of working and responding which would make it easier for victim survivors, and hopefully, bring healing to those most vulnerable who had been hurt.”
However, the cardinal’s “humble awareness of his own vulnerabilities was deeper than anything he experienced in the spotlight of the media.”
Bishop O’Toole, who was Cardinal Cormac’s private secretary for six years when he was Archbishop of Westminster, said the cardinal was not only “a good friend but an inspiring mentor. He had the capacity to see the potential in another and to draw that out.”
The bishop concluded by reflecting that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was, “to his very bones, a priest.” In the cardinal’s final days, “Life had become very simple…the praying of his daily Office, the Rosary, and Mass. These were the things which had sustained him all his life and these sustained him as he embarked on the final journey.”
There was spontaneous applause from the congregation at the end of the homily when Bishop O’Toole bid farewell to “Dear Cardinal Cormac, dear Father, my very dear brother”.