Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor remembered
By Bernadette Farrell, the first Deputy Director of Citizens UK.
There will be a Citizens UK delegation at this Wednesday’s Mass in Memory of the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor at Westminster Cathedral from 17.00 to 19.00.
As Cardinal Murphy O’Connor is remembered this week, one image towers in my memory. It was May-day, 2007. Cormac walked out through the doors of Westminster Cathedral. Undeterred by the pouring rain, he greeted the waiting crowds, stretched across the piazza. Then, in colorful procession, he led them down Victoria Street and beyond Parliament. Standing in Trafalgar Square he addressed 15,000 people, all waving their national flags alongside union jacks. Beside him were senior representatives of all parties and religious traditions. It had taken Cormac’s political courage to bring them together. At the first Mass for Migrants that he introduced the previous year, 2006, he had called for an amnesty for undocumented migrants.
How many previous Cardinals had become a voice for the people? In 1889, Henry Manning’s intervention won a living wage for the starving dockers of East London. His words and actions led to 125 years of Catholic Social Teaching. Now, rising from Manning’s chair, Cormac named the injustice of his own day, in the capital city he had grown to love: ‘While our nation benefits economically from the presence of undocumented workers, too often we turn a blind eye when they are exploited by employers.’ He continued, ‘We want you to know that you belong … We are grateful for the role you play in our economy … We want you to be welcomed such that you are strangers no longer.’ At his words, the entire assembly burst in to prolonged applause. Many people were in tears.
Leading the intercessions, at the first Mass, was “M.” The daughter of parents with an ancestral claim to UK residence, she spent her formative years in London, an active member of her local parish, but had become ‘illegal,’ without knowing it, on turning eighteen. Her family were reeling from the loss of her brother in a car accident. In the chaos that followed his sudden death, M’s mother overlooked the residency application for her daughter. When we met, she was a model citizen and parishioner, who worked hard, supported her family and volunteered regularly for her community. In the early hours of the morning her door was kicked down by immigration officers.
The Strangers into Citizens campaign grew from hundreds of similar stories, shared by Catholic priests, sisters and headteachers, trying, however possible, to offer support.