Packed Cathedral bids farewell to Canon Pat Davies

Fr Pat Davies - fourth from left - with members of the Westminster  Diocese Justice and Peace Commission, planting a tree on a sunny day at the National J&P Peace Conference in Derbyshire in July 2003

Fr Pat Davies - fourth from left - with members of the Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission, planting a tree on a sunny day at the National J&P Peace Conference in Derbyshire in July 2003

The  front blocks of seats in Westminster Cathedral were full and the Order  of  Service booklets had ran out a good ten minutes before the funeral of Fr Pat  Davies started on Friday 26 February. He was clearly a well-loved  parish priest  in Westminster Diocese, as the presence of so many former  parishioners  testified. One row of seats held members of the justice and peace  group at  Kingsbury Green Parish, for example, whose meetings he joined while  their parish  priest between 1997 and 2002. For his seventieth birthday in 2008 they gave him  a CAFOD ‘world gift’ of a bike to a community in Malawi – which  delighted him - and they visited him regularly until his death on 16 February. 

Many present remembered him most fondly as a gentle champion of justice   and peace causes in Westminster Diocese and nationally. He was instrumental in  the setting up of Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission in 2001 and  was appointed by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as its first outreach worker.  But from 1988, as parish priest in East  Finchley, he hosted Justice and Peace annual days and meetings, very  often the only priest to be in on every planning session with the lay activists.  He rarely missed the annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network  Conference in
Derbyshire – once presiding over the conference Mass -  even  after a diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease left him frail and leaning on a walking  stick. During his final decline with cancer after August 2009 he was still  seeking out news about campaigning events such as ‘The Wave’ on climate change  in December 2009.

He was chaplain to the Catholic Institute for  International Relations, now Progressio, for six years in the 1980s, and  involved himself in their campaigns up to the present time. But he was close to  all the Catholic social justice agencies, very often offering generous  hospitality to their visitors from the global south. Through CAFOD he had worked  for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference for a year in 1987 and  thrived on regular
contact with prophetic church figures. In May 2009, for  example, he hosted Pax Christi AGM speaker South  Africa’s Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg in his Warwick Street  parish near Piccadilly Circus. Two months  before that he met up with friends at the March 2009 Romero service at St  Martin-in-the-Fields Church, organised by the Archbishop Romero Trust. 

And all these groups were represented at his funeral. Fr Joe Ryan and  Barbara Kentish of the Westminster Justice and  Peace Commission were joined by other Westminster  activists and  representatives of Justice and Peace in East Anglia,  Southwark and Arundel and Brighton Dioceses. Columban Father Peter Hughes of  the National Justice and Peace Network Executive was one of more then 60 priests  on the vast altar, sitting  alongside Jesuit friends of Fr Pat and many Westminster Diocesan priests. Former  National Justice and Peace Network Chairs Rosa Shea and Phil Kerton were  present, along with Pax Christi staff. Progressio’s current and former directors  were there – Christine Allen and Ian Linden – and many CAFOD staff, including  Director Chris Bain and his predecessor Julian Filochowski.  

Archbishop Vincent Nichols presided over a funeral Mass where the  readings and music were chosen by Fr Pat himself to reflect his ministry of  service to others and his justice and peace commitment: from the first “swords  into ploughshares” reading in Isaiah to the song during the preparation of the  gifts – “his justice can flourish and peace till the moon fails” – to the lovely  communion hymn, “Bread for the World” by Bernadette Farrell. The South African  hymn “Thumamina” reflected his time in that country. The second reading was read  by BBC news presenter George Alagiah, who once spoke at a Westminster Justice and  Peace Day, in his role as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation. Bidding prayers  prayed for the Church, for world peace and for CAFOD, whose Spring Family Fast  Day was being celebrated throughout the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

In  his homily Bishop George Stack paid tribute to Fr Pat as a “bridge-builder” and  “networker”, as well as highlighting his work as Assistant General Secretary of  the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for five years from 1992. He said  Fr Pat was “delighted to be a canon of Westminster Cathedral”, proudly  accompanying Archbishop Nichols down the aisle at the latter’s Mass of  Installation there in May 2009.

As the simple coffin left the church  there were few dry eyes amongst those who had known Fr Pat over the years. But  before that Archbishop Nichols, at the request of Fr Pat, warmly invited “every  single person present” into the Westminster Hall next door for refreshments. Fr  Pat had wanted everyone to enjoy the company of new people and to share a meal  together celebrating his life. As Bishop Stack said in his homily: “May his  compassionate and gentle soul rest in peace”.

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