Church leaders from across the island of Ireland have been paying tribute to John Hume, the Nobel peace prize-winning politician who spent decades advocating for an end to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Hume, who founded and led the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), died on Monday at the age of 83.
A champion for non-violent civil protest, Hume's life work culminated in the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought to an end decades of bloodshed perpetrated by the warring paramilitary forces of the IRA and the UDA/UVF. The 30-year-long conflict, commonly known as 'The Troubles', claimed the lives of some 3,500 people - the majority of whom were innocent civilians.
Hume has been fondly remembered as a man of nationalist persuasions — a Derry-born Catholic — who was stoic in his public rejection of violence as a legitimate means of protest, despite many of those in the Republican/Nationalist movement taking up arms. Over the years, Hume tirelessly volunteered himself as a bridge-builder between the embattled communities and was recognised as an impassioned advocate for peace, diplomacy and civil unity.
The moderator of the largest protestant denomination in Northern Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, said that in pursuing a peaceful and just society, Hume’s "belief that past grievances and injustices could give way to what he called ‘a new generosity of spirit and action’ should not be forgotten".
Dr David Bruce added: “When he received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1998, which was jointly awarded with Lord Trimble, John Hume reflected on the previous 30 years of his political involvement saying, ‘Amid shattered lives, a quiet heroism has borne silent rebuke to the evil that violence represents, to the carnage and waste of violence, to its ultimate futility.’
"It is perhaps John Hume’s own personal courage, along with his consistent and outright rejection of violence, which we honour and remember today.”
The Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown added: "The death of John Hume, one of the greatest peacemakers and champions of social justice of our time, will be felt by many people locally and around the world. He dedicated his life to the welfare of this community, at no small cost to himself. His name became a byword for dedication to the cause of peace, whatever the obstacles or criticisms.
"While he strode the world stage, he remained firmly rooted in his local city. It was the specific circumstances that prevailed here in his native city that helped develop his vision for the future. His first- hand experience of injustice and violence and his broad European vision emboldened him to persevere in building bridges and friendships.
"John had spent a few years in seminary discerning whether he had a vocation to become a priest. In many ways he always retained that strong Christian sense of being called to be a peacemaker."
The Church of Ireland's Archbishop of Armagh, Most Revd John McDowell said: "John Hume will be remembered not only as a significant politician in Ireland but also for his unambiguous dedication to making political change happen by purely peaceful means.
"Because of the manner of his approach, this required enormous patience and sympathetic understanding and those of us who are the beneficiaries of his legacy can only regret his passing while, at the same time, being thankful for his gargantuan efforts in the cause of peace and good relations."
"He was a very humble man," said David Smyth of the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland. "He committed his life to this goal that many thought was unachievable... he tried to find a common goal of peace.
"The times we are living in there's such deep division, being that witness for reconciliation and redemption is a really powerful thing. Whenever someone forgives their enemy that still makes the news today... it's a powerful thing. That's what we carry as Christians and that's part of the legacy that John Hume inspires us with today."
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who helped orchestrate the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, called Hume a "political titan" who "refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past".
"His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and he will rightly be remembered for it," Blair added. "He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen".
President Bill Clinton, who worked alongside Hume for the cause of peace in Northern Ireland, said the politician "fought his long war for peace in Northern Ireland" with "his chosen weapons: an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence, persistence, kindness and love".