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BBC Radio 4:Catherine Pepinster - 02/09/2017

At the heart of Christianity are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the story of Jesus told by four gifted storytellers. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who died yesterday, was himself a great story-teller. During my 13 years as editor of the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, I was privileged to enjoy Cardinal Cormac’s company on many occasions, both at great receptions and during one to one conversations. He was a wonderfully entertaining man, with tales of his childhood with his Irish family, his days in Rome training for the priesthood at the English College where he learnt to make a superb and very strong martini cocktail, and the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI. The hospitality that is part of the Christian monastic tradition was much in evidence at Archbishop’s House when he was cardinal archbishop of Westminster.

This talent for friendship meant that Cardinal Cormac became close to another Catholic archbishop who was made cardinal on the same day as him – the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, who was elected Pope Francis in 2013. Although Cardinal Cormac was not a voting cardinal then, he wielded influence behind the scenes, lobbying for his friend to be elected.

What knowing Cardinal Cormac taught me was why the Gospels tell us that Christians should be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. The cardinal’s love of life, of a story, and of a party revealed an uncomplicated nature, a kind of innocence. There was no cynicism; rather, his faith made him full of optimism. But alongside that innocence was a canniness too. He had a serpentine wisdom about the Vatican. He knew it could be a tricky place and he understood how to be effective in dealing with Vatican officials.

Sometimes his innocence didn’t help him, especially at the lowest point of his career. When a priest who abused children said he would not do it again, Cormac had taken his promise at face value, something he deeply regretted. Much later, when he became archbishop of Westminster and the scandal over this abusive priest came back to haunt him, he showed his wisdom by setting up an investigation which led to a new child protection policy to prevent abuse in the church.

As archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac chose a motto for his coat of arms. It was Gaudium et Spes, Latin for joy and hope, the opening words of a Second Vatican Council document on the church’s role in the modern world.

He loved the stories of the Gospel and believed in their truth which he wanted to convey to the world, offering it joy and hope. May he rest in peace.

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