The conquest of Mount Everest 50 years ago this Thursday (May 29) has a Catholic echo. Fr Martin Haigh, a Benedictine monk at Ampleforth abbey, North Yorkshire, recalled how he sent a small crucifix - given to him by Pope Pius X11 - to the British expedition before the historic climb. He asked Sir John Hunt, leader of the 29,000ft trek, if he would make sure the crucifix was placed at the top if the climbers succeeded in their unique bid to become the first men to climb Everest. Sir John replied to Fr Haigh: "I have been very moved by your letter and the enclosure. I feel, like you, this venture has a deeper inspiration than most of us openly admit to and that we shall succeed only if we keep that basic motive uppermost in our minds. "It will indeed be a privilege to carry your cross to the highest point we can reach, perhaps to the summit itself." Edmund Hillary, who was later knighted for his feat, carried the crucifix. When he saw his sherpa colleague Norgay Tenzing at the summit performing Buddhist rites of prayer it reminded him about the crucifix. "He then buried it in the snow at this highest point on the earth's surface," said Fr Haigh, 82, who is now based at St Mary's parish Leyland, Lancashire. He said the placing of the crucifix on Everest had a "deep religious significance." He recalled that when he had asked his abbot for permission to send the crucifix to the expedition, he replied: "Good idea, but explain why." He said he had told Sir John Hunt it would be "a symbol of God's eventual triumph and a rededication of the world to His service." Fr Haigh told a reporter: "I will be celebrating on Thursday what I believe God will be celebrating that a little cross from the Pope was placed on the summit of Everest as a sign and symbol of our faith."
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