The slain Catholic lawmaker Sir David Amess was remembered as “a true bridge-builder” at a Requiem Mass on Tuesday.
Preaching at the Mass at Westminster Cathedral, London, on Nov. 23, Canon Pat Browne said that even in death, the veteran Member of Parliament brought people on opposing sides together.
“David was a true bridge-builder. To see the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition stand shoulder to shoulder in silence and prayer, paying their respects in Southend after his death, and have them reach across the chamber in unity and fellowship, was something Parliament does not see very often,” said Browne, the Parliamentary Roman Catholic Duty Priest since 2009.
“David’s death was the catalyst for everyone in Parliament realizing their oneness as a community working differently, but together, for the good of the nation in our world.”
Sir David, 69, was stabbed to death during a weekly meeting with constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Oct. 15.
The live-streamed Requiem Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster. Mourners included British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, members of the Cabinet, the former prime ministers John Major, David Cameron, and Theresa May, and the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer.
In a message read out by Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the apostolic nuncio to Great Britain, Pope Francis offered his “heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness to the Amess family.”
“His Holiness recalls with gratitude Sir David’s years of devoted public service guided by his strong Catholic faith and evidenced in his deep concern for the poor and the disadvantaged, his commitment to the defense of God’s gift of life, and his efforts to foster understanding and cooperation with the Holy See in its universal mission,” said the message, sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to Bishop Alan Williams of Brentwood, Sir David’s home diocese.
“Commending Sir David’s soul to the loving mercy of Jesus Christ our Savior, the Holy Father prays that all who honor his memory will be confirmed in the resolve to reject the ways of violence, to combat evil with good, and to help build a society of ever greater justice, fraternity, and solidarity.”
Nichols, the president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, said that the pope offered “words of deep condolence and support and prayers for the family of Sir David.”
The cardinal thanked God “for the example that he gave and the goodness that he achieved,” praying “for God’s mercy and His judgment and for the welcome to be given to Sir David to his heavenly home.”
Sir David, a champion of pro-life causes, served as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) from 1983 until his death, representing Southend West from 1997.
He established an All-Party Parliamentary Group for relations with the Holy See in 2006 and was instrumental in arranging Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Parliament in September 2010.
The first reading at the Requiem Mass, Wisdom 3:1-9, was read by former U.S. Congressman Robert Pittenger.
Deacon Damien Wade of Brentwood diocese read the Gospel, John 15:12-17, in which Jesus says: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
In his homily, Canon Pat Browne described the impact of Sir David’s death on his staff.
“Since my appointment to Parliament 12 years ago, David’s office was one place I was always made welcome into for a cup of tea and a chat. So we go back a long way,” said Browne, who officiated at Sir David’s wedding at Westminster Cathedral in 1983 and later baptized his five children.
“Sadly, my last visit to his office was on that awful Friday afternoon. I had just finished a wedding in the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft in Parliament, and heard the tragic news. I went over immediately to see his staff. They were devastated.”
“There were many tears and it struck me forcefully: these people weren’t just his staff; they were his friends. They loved him. They were his team, his collaborators in the work for the constituents of Southend West.”
“Friendship was David’s great gift to others. Not just to those who worked alongside him and agreed with him, but to everyone in the House [of Commons, the lower house of the U.K. Parliament], including those who did not share his political or religious views.”
Browne recalled the lawmaker’s gift for making others laugh, recounting what he called “the boiled sweet episode,” which occurred when the pope passed the lawmaker in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
“Seeking to pull [his rosary beads] out for the pope to bless, he presented instead a boiled sweet in its packet, which Pope Benedict innocently blessed and moved on,” the priest said.
“His dressing up as a knight and riding on a horse in the streets of Southend when he became Sir David: these things enabled others to laugh with him. His genuine charm, wit, and warmth broke through many barriers as he looked for those things in others that they could agree on and work together.”
He went on: “David was also serious. For him, life was a gift to be gratefully accepted, cherished, nourished, and lived to the full. He took his life in his two hands and threw himself into it. Indeed, he died doing so, in service of others. As today’s Gospel tells us: ‘A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends’… his constituents, his country. David did so.”
“His Catholic faith informed his passionate commitment to the very right to life, to human dignity, and to the common good. But it was also rooted in his absolute conviction that an MP’s first priority was to their constituents — it was the death of a constituent from hypothermia which led to his successful Private Members’ Bill on fuel poverty.”
The man accused of killing Sir David — Ali Harbi Ali, 25, of Kentish Town in north London — is expected to face trial from March 7, 2022. The British citizen of Somali descent is charged with murder and the preparation of terrorist acts.
The lawmaker’s death sparked a debate about priests’ access to crime scenes to administer the last rites.
Fr. Jeff Woolnough, the pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Eastwood, in Leigh-on-Sea, said that he rushed to Belfairs Methodist Church when he heard that Amess had been attacked.
A police officer outside the church reportedly relayed his request to enter the building, but the priest was not given access. He prayed the rosary outside the police cordon instead.
Following Sir David’s death, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, western England, called for greater recognition of the last rites as an “emergency service.”
U.K. lawmakers have formally proposed an “Amess amendment” to a bill going through Parliament.
The idea emerged days after Sir David was killed. Paying tribute to his slain colleague in the House of Commons on Oct. 18, the Labour MP Mike Kane suggested that lawmakers pass an amendment guaranteeing priests access to those requiring last rites.
Cardinal Nichols and London’s police chief agreed earlier this month to create a joint group reviewing Catholic priests’ access to crime scenes.
The day before the Requiem Mass, a private service attended by family members was held at St. Mary’s Church, Prittlewell, Essex. It was led by the Anglican church’s vicar, Rev. Paul Mackay, and Msgr. Kevin Hale, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Joseph, Leigh-on-Sea.
Former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe read out a statement from the Amess family during the service.
“We are enormously proud of him, our hearts are shattered, however, there was still so much David wanted to do so this is not the end of Sir David Amess MP, it is the next chapter,” it said.
“‘Strong and courageous’ is an appropriate way to describe David. He was a patriot and a man of peace, so we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all because that is the only way forward.”
“We must set aside hatred and work towards togetherness; whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, we must be tolerant and try to understand.”
Following the service, a horse-drawn carriage bore Sir David’s casket through the streets of Southend-on-Sea, which was granted city status in tribute to the lawmaker, who had long campaigned for the coastal town to be recognized as a city.
Widdecombe, who converted to Catholicism in 1993, also gave the eulogy at Westminster Cathedral.
Speaking shortly before Cardinal Nichols blessed the lawmaker’s coffin and said the Prayer of Commendation, she recalled that Sir David was “an ardent pro-lifer and campaigner against abortion.”
She said: “In his last days in a Roman prison awaiting execution, St Paul wrote: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course.’ David Amess fought many good fights, he certainly kept the faith and now, sadly for those left behind but gloriously for him in heaven, David Amess has finished his course.”