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Westminster archbishop has good sense of Hume.

OXFORD, Enland -- Cardinal Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminster, and Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee, have something in common besides the fact they are Benedictine monks: They both narrowly escaped being given inappropriate names.

At Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire, tradition had it that a novice took over the name of the last monk to die. He was called Hugh. So George Hume nearly became Dom Hugh Hume, but the novice master had compassion on him and he became Basil, after the father of Eastern monasticism.

Meanwhile at St. Vincent's archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., George Samuel Weakland was assigned the name Adolf (pronounced AY-dolf) on the grounds that it needed rescuing from infamy -- this was 1945. He counterproposed Callistos and Remebert, foolishly putting Callistos first on his list; thus he became Rembert.

Hume, four years older, turned 70 on March 2. No celebrations, No fuss. Though everyone thinks of him as English, indeed "typically English with his long Plantagenet nose," his father was a Scottish physician and his mother an French nurse. They met during World War I.

His appointment to Westminster in 1976 -- the first Benedictine archbishop since the restoration of the hierarchy in 1851 -- was a surprise. That is a way of saying that journalists had not predicted it. His pre-Reformation predecessors as archbishops of Canterbury were routinely Benedictine monks, including the Saints Thomas Becket and Anselm (famous for the ontological argument).

On the day of his consecration, Hume led the monks of Ampleforth down the street from his own cathedral to Westminster Abbey, national shrine, where they sang vespers for the first time since the Reformation. He drew ecumenical comforth from the tomb of Queens Elisabeth and Mary ("Bloody Mary"), divided by religion in life, who await the Resurrection in common hope.

Since then, the ecumenical scene has become much more complicated. But up to and including the papal visitof 1982 it was possible to see the Anglican and Catholic churches as "sister churches" -- the phrase used by Pope Paul VI when he canonized the 40 English and Welsh martyrs in 1970.

In prepartions for the 1982 papal visit, Hume was dining with Victor de Waal, dean of Canterbury Cathedral. His 8-year-old son, Thomas, came down to kiss everyone good-night. Gravely the boy explained: "I've been thinking how to solve the ecumenical problem. The best thing wouldd be for you to become arcbishop of Westminster and archbishop of Canterbury when Dr. Robert Runcie retires."

"Well, Thomas," said Hume, "when you grow up you must become prime minister, and then you can fix it."

But such jokes are no more. The stakes are too high. There is a serious prospect of a large number of Anlican priests' "swimming the Tiber" or, in other words, becoming Roman Catholics. Estimates vary from 50 to 1,000.

Whether it is to be a trickle or a flood, Hume is "terrified we're going to turn round and say we don't want these newcomers. We've prayed for Christian unity, and now it could be happening." Hume does not have to tender his resignation until he is 75 -- in 1998. He surprises himself at being still there. When appointed, he said he would not stay longer than 10 years -- that would be enough to exhaust his stock of energy and imagination. After 10 years, he continued to soldier on, explaining that his life had gone in periods of 13 years --13 as housemaster at Ampleforth, 13 as abbot, 13 as archbishop.

After 14 years, he said that it was not so easy to resign under this pope. He feels that Pope Paul VI, who appointed him, would have let him go. Some suspect that he is only hanging on until he can be sure who will succeed him. And who won't.

Paul VI said to him (as he did to Weakland, too): "The best preparation for being a bishop is to have been a Benedictine abbot." The Rule of St. Benedict can be seen as a treatise on leadership, that is, the art of getting the best out of people.

Benedict says that the abbot should so arrange things that "while the strong have something to strive for, the weak are not crushed." To that end, the abbot must do a lot of listening. The first word of the Benedictine Rule: "Listen."

"The abbot has to listen to the younger monks," says Hume, "because God may be speaking through them." In the abbey as in the diocese, he says, "the way to unity of charity and faith is by emphasizing the deep things which bring us together: God, prayer, spirituality."

At some point I shouldd declare an interest -- but I'm not sure quite what to declare. I suppose I could call myself his failed biographer. Last summer a publisher invited me to write Hume's biography. Without cooperation of the subject, it would be a poor thing. When I broached the question, he said, very firmly: No, no and no; trois fois rien.

It wasn't just me. The ban applied across the board. He didn't want a biography, period, finding something indecorous in the very idea. He gave permission however, to write his obituary -- if I outlast him.

A biographer would be particularly interested in why he became a monk in the fall of 1940. He had been at school at Ampleforth, the nation was at war with Adolf's evil tyranny, he was 18 and expected to join the army like his peers.

I have heard it suggested that the reason was that he thought the war already lost. With Hitler victorious on the mainland of Europe, it was only a matter of time before Britain fell. It was too late for the army. An abbey was the best place to prepare for martyrdom. His French relatives, smarting under their defeat, might well have influenced him.

Forty years on, in 1980, came one of his proudest moments. He was elected president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and was in Rome for a synod.

The great moment came when he led all the bishops of the synod, including the pope, on pilgrimage to Subiaco, the remote mountain fastness north of Rome, where St. Benedict had his vision of the humane monastic life that was the basis of Europe's Christian civilization.

This was Hume the European, already well-aware of what John Henry Newman called "the Benedictine centuries" and the wider Europe, which was then suffering under communism. By 1990 he was able to host the churches of Central and Eastern Europe meeting at Ampleforth.

It was Paul VI who had made St. Benedict patron of Europe in 1966. Pope John Paul II flanked him with the two Greek brothers from Thessalonica in 1979. Hume said at Ampleforth: "The three patron saints of Europe represent the undivided church of the first centuries. They came from different cultures, East and West. They bring to the whole continent rich traditions and complementary gifts."

So East and West are not rivals. "Neither," said Hume, "has a monopoly on charisma, courage or wisdom." Like all Hume's "criticism" of John Paul, it was so deft you missed it if you blinked.

It is the custom at Ampleforth for the abbot's weekly conferences to be typed out so that traveling or sick monks can stay in touch. Hume's Ampleforth conferences were gathered together.

I asked him, in public, whether he thought they would have been published had he not become a cardinal, and if not, what this told us. "They would not have been published," he confessed, "and as for what this tell us -- I suppose it means that being a cardinal is a good commercial proposition."

Afterward, he told me he thought his collected sermons and addresses in 1980, In Praise of St. Benedict, was a much better book, and he autographed it for young Benedict Hebblethwaite.
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Title Annotation:Cardinal Basil Hume
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 19, 1993
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