A party was held in Westminster Cathedral Hall last night to bid farewell to Franciscan Father Michael Seed, who will be leaving the Cathedral soon, after more than 24 years service as priest and Ecumenical Advisor to the Diocese.
Many tributes were paid to Fr Michael throughout the evening - for his wide-ranging work with everyone from homeless people to royalty, ecumenical initiatives and fundraising efforts - and above all - his kindness and sense of fun.
Sister Ellen Flynn, director of the Passage centre for the homeless, said: "Michael started work with us 24 years ago when he was a deacon. Since then he has been our most loyal supporter. He has often demonstrated a prophetic voice on our behalf. I can't imagine how we will manage without him."
Fr Michael has celebrated Mass at the Houses of Parliament for many years and is a friend to many politicians.
Lord Alton said: "One of the great things about him is his accessibility. He is there for everyone. He is an encourager. I would like to thank him on behalf of both Houses and both sides of Parliament. Lords Alton ended with a quote from Hilaire Belloc: "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There's always laughter and good red wine. At least I've always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!"
Sigmund Sternberg, from the Three Faith Forum, said: " I am looking forward to continuing my work with Michael after his retirement. He is a most loveable and kind person. His work on Christian-Jewish-Muslim dialogue is needed now more than ever." Mgr Mark Langham, currently Adminstrator of the Cathedral, pointed out the number of initiatives Fr Michael had started, among them the Christian Unity Week events and Good Friday procession which brings the Methodists, Anglicans and Catholics from Westminster together each year. "Michael has the gift of being able to say outrageous things to very important people and making them laugh. Once he asked the Bishop of London whether he had got his huge pectoral cross from a Christmas cracker. The Bishop found it very funny. There is a sense of goodness about him. As Jesus said of Nathanel, 'he is a man with no guile.'"
Cardinal Cormac said the evening was an occasion on which he wished his predecessor Cardinal Hume was present, because he would have found more words to describe Fr Michael. He then told a story about a time when he was in hospital in Rome with a back problem and the person in the next bed was dying. A Franciscan priest came and they prayed the Rosary with the dying man. Later he came over to Cardinal Cormac, took a bottle of wine out from under his robe and said: "would you like a drink?".
Cardinal Cormac said: "Its his liminality - that sense of balance that is so attractive." The Cardinal concluded by leading the party with: 'For he's a jolly good fellow."
Fr Michael spoke briefly, saying his time at the Cathedral had been wonderful. He told the story of one day when he was hearing confessions and a drunk angry man threw a copy at the Sun and a hip flask of whisky at him. A few minutes later a person came in who was deaf and needed to put things in writing. "When I opened the door he saw the bottle of whisky and the Sun there" Fr Michael said. "I don't know what impression I gave him." Fr Michael ended by thanking everyone again saying: "you are always in my prayers."
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