Cardinal Hume and Me

Cathy Corcoran OBE – CEO

Cathy and Cardinal Hume in Ethiopia
Last week was the 13th Anniversary of Cardinal Hume’s death which always provides a time of reflection for people to reminisce about encounters with our founder – I wanted to share one of mine with you.

In October 1984 I was working for CAFOD and visiting Brussels with a BBC News team, harassing various EU government officials about their (lack of) response to the unfolding tragedy in Ethiopia due to famine and compounded by civil war.  That evening my boss called me and asked if I could get back to London rather sooner than intended as Cardinal Hume had  just watched Michael Buerk’s iconic footage from the camps in Ethiopia and wanted us to arrange for him to visit as soon as possible ie in the next two weeks.

Although we had met some time before, we didn’t really know each other. I vividly remember sitting in his study two days after the phone call, watching him become more and more stubborn about not wanting the press to cover the visit, saying ‘I am not going to be a famine tourist’. Suddenly he turned to me and asked what I thought? I hesitated and he said gently but firmly, when I ask a question, I want to know the answer. I gulped and said that I didn’t think that he had a choice. As a major faith leader, his visit could directly influence policies which were allowing people to starve to death. If it was to be a private visit, how would anyone know he had gone? Then out of sheer nerves, I said ‘I’m sorry but you are just going to have to prostitute yourself.’ After a stunned silence, he muttered that he had never been called that before.

One major worry was the fact that he had never visited the Third World before and so how would he take the inevitable heartbreaking scenes? My worries were groundless; he handled it better than I did, because he had himself to offer to the people he met.  In their desperation, they hadn’t a clue who he was, yet they knew he was a man of God who had come to walk amongst them. The hard bitten journalists who covered the visit said they had never experienced anything quite like it.

He often said that the visit had the most profound influence on him, indeed that it had been life changing; having the privilege of knowing him and sharing that experience with him and later learning that he was very fond of me, had a pretty profound effect on my life, too. In fact that is the main reason why I applied to become CEO here – and am still here today. When the going gets tough, I think about how he would deal with the issues and that gives me the energy to tackle them.  He is still a powerful presence here and we are proud to be part of his legacy thirteen years ago almost to the day since he died.

We launched the George Basil Hume Foundation about a year ago, not only does this raise vital funds for the Centre it helps keeps our memories of him alive. Please consider becoming a member of the  George Basil Hume Foundation.