Homily at Requiem Mass for Fr Pat Cope at St George's Cathedral, Southwark

Fr Patrick Cope

Fr Patrick Cope

The Requiem Mass for Fr Peter Cope took place yesterday at St George's Cathedral Southwark. Archbishop Peter Smith was principal celebrant. Also concelebrating was Bishop Richard Moth, the Bishop for Prisons. The Tyburn Community of nuns, priests and deacons representing Fr Pat's time in London and in his native north, along with many from the Prison Service including a variety of ecumenical guests and friends attended the packed service. The homily was given by Fr Dominic Robinson SJ from Farm Street Church.

There is going to be a second Requiem Mass on Thursday November 9th at 12pm at Sacred Heart Church, in Fr Pat's native Hull.

The full text of Fr Dominic's homily follows:

How can we simply heed the call to hope in eternal life which flows out of this Liturgy of Requiem on an occasion such as this?

Still very much grieving the loss of Pat, Fr Patrick, Paddy, however we knew him? For many of us who were close to Pat it still seems unreal as everything moved so cruelly it would seem, so swiftly, from living such an active life, up and down the country visiting prisons, looking after his sisters at Tyburn with such characteristic conscientiousness, and giving plenty of time amid a hectic busy life of ministry to his many friends. It was a full life lived with huge energy, engagement with people and projects, plenty of stresses but plenty of fun too. Above all a life which he dedicated fully to what was most important to him, his priesthood, lived generously, enthusiastically, fully, in every respect, daily, shown so clearly through Pat's care for the celebration of the sacraments, meticulous prayer-inspired preaching, and the time he gave to others - he was above all a people person. And above all too his love for the Church which he served so well in challenging jobs over the years, not least in his work for the Ministry of Justice where his presence as a Catholic, the senior Catholic priest in the Civil Service, was so important. All this suddenly cut short when Pat developed increasingly agonising back pain in August.

Pat used to join our community at Farm Street most Sundays when there wasn't as he used to say "a better offer" here at the Cathedral thanks to Canon Richard's invitation. In fact Pat would join us often during the week too so much so as I would joke that he was actually more present than some of our own brethren. And it was one Sunday lunch in mid-August that, most uncharacteristically, he took his leave early, waiving the offer of a post-lunch drink, because his back pain was unmanageable. Pat leaving a party early - not a good sign - something badly wrong. But no one could have imagined that within a few weeks it was confirmed that Pat had cancer, it was in several places, and was untreatable. The swiftness of Pat's decline was shocking, unreal.

But there's one thing that stands out for me from the experience of accompanying Pat as he made his final journey and which many have commented on, summing it up in these or similar words: "Pat taught us how to die well"; "as in life, so in death" people have remarked; "Pat instinctively knew how to die". A couple of memories of the last weeks stick in my mind especially. In his flat at Tyburn by that time confined to bed, Pat, concelebrating Mass, characteristically stepping in after the Gospel to summon the energy to say a few words: to thank everyone for how kind they had been and praying the words we say every night in Night Prayer, "Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit" - he had been praying this back in August the night before surgery too so this was a theme in his prayer. And - as happened on several occasions when he was up and down on a daily basis - suggesting when to fit his friends in to visit.

Characteristically organised to the last there was a timetable based on his energy levels, which included practical legal and family matters to one-to-one chats to, when he could muster an extra spark, a few close friends to relax with in the evening. That was Pat, in life, in death. A practical man who got the job done; gave time to everyone as they needed it; and also, even to the last, a cheeky sense of fun. It was above all for Pat always about people. As so many said, Pat's dying actually brought people together and how much he would have liked that; yet also, right to the end, praying that what was God's will, not his, be done. 'Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say?: "Father, save me from this hour?" No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name". Pat indeed teaches us how to die.

And yet Pat also teaches us how to live, yes he teaches us brother priests and religious, but he teaches us as Christian disciples, as fellow human beings of whichever faith or none. And so the Gospel chosen by Pat for the Funeral, as with the other readings the same as at his priestly ordination in 1982, helps us to understand his life and legacy. "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" - that's what, that's who, Pat tried to show others through every aspect of his life, the life of a good Christian disciple, the life of a good priest. I met Pat for the first time only in 2013 when he moved back to London for the second time to undertake his job at the Ministry of Justice and to be chaplain at Tyburn. There are many people here who have known Pat so much longer so I need to give them some words, although the large number of tributes prevent everyone from being included. There will be an opportunity at the second Funeral in Hull.

Pat went to seminary as a boy, to Upholland and then to Ushaw, so the friends he made then, many here today, knew him for a long time. One thing they all attest to is how he touched so many lives. How indeed he helped people, and if there is a theme, especially the young, the weakest and especially prisoners, to see Jesus. And he did this in collaboration with others - with his fellow priests, with lay people especially lay prison chaplains, with people of all faiths; and with great energy and drive. A few memories:

One Middlesbrough Diocese priest recalls Pat's early years of ministry: Pat was first appointed as curate to St George's, York in 1982. Pat and Seamus, the parish priest, made a great team and Seamus encouraged Pat to use his initiative particularly in working with young people but in all areas of Parish Life. Pat was involved in the SVP and various youth projects in York as the city's Catholic schools were reorganised. Pat was very involved in the school chaplaincy at the newly opened All Saints School, particularly taking his duties seriously as chaplain to the annual skiing trips, an interest he kept up after moving from York to Thornaby. He spent a short while as assistant priest at Christ the King Thornaby before becoming Diocesan Youth Officer and Chaplain to Deerbolt Young Offenders Institution. As Youth Officer Pat helped develop the involvement of schools and young people on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes". Words of appreciation from a close priest friend.

I know from my many chats with Pat over the last few years that it was this young offenders' work that grabbed him early on, and so it was no surprise that he was asked to work in his first stint in London for the Bishops' Conference on young people's ministry and then eventually to serve in various capacities in prisons work. Pat's work with prisons awoke so many different aspects of his personality, his gifts and skills, as a man of deep humanity and mercy, of collaboration and teamwork, and in all of this I'm sure he helped so many working in the prison service and prisoners alike to do as he had committed himself to at his ordination, to help them to see Jesus:

A colleague writes: "There are countless prisoners, former prisoners and prison staff all over England and Wales who will have very good reason to give thanks to almighty God for the priestly ministry of Fr. Patrick Cope. Pat dedicated the majority of his life as a priest to those who found themselves in prison. He ministered for many years to the young men who found themselves in HMP Deerbolt in his home diocese of Middlesbrough. Here he cared for them, listened to them, consoled them and above all celebrated the Sacraments for them. Pat was a priest of great energy. He had a real ability to use the structures of the Prison Service for the benefit of both prisoners and chaplains. He always strove to encourage colleagues to give of their best to the men, women and young people in their care. Pat's networking abilities were legendary - he seemed to know everyone in the criminal justice world. He would know immediately who was the best person to speak to in order to get something done. He made it a priority to work well and respectfully with colleagues from all faith backgrounds. He valued these relationships very highly. All of this was inspired by his love of the Catholic faith and of the Church. He held always before him the Love of the Lord Jesus Christ for those on the edge of society. He drew his strength from the celebration of Mass and the prayer life of the Church".

Yet as a Catholic priest in the prison world, with all the challenges of helping to steer a way of mercy and justice amid the politics of criminal justice in today's Britain, he knew how to collaborate across a broad spectrum:

An ecumenical colleague writes: "Pat was very committed to ecumenical and multifaith working which grew out of his roots that were deep within his own Roman Catholic tradition. Precious moments were praying the Office with him when he worked at Deerbolt and we were doing a chaplaincy review. His work grew out of that commitment to prayer". But, our correspondent adds, it wasn't all prayer and meetings together - no, if Pat was involved relationships - ecumenical, interreligious, whatever, were above all refreshingly human: "I could say we enjoyed regular time of 'fellowship and sharing', aka going to the pub for a Stella and a packet of nuts - we had a deep friendship that started long before working together at HQ. He used to organise our Christmas lunches. He helped to bring life and perspective to that. After one lunch he arranged for us to go to Tyburn for coffee and chocolates with the sisters who were really interested in the way we worked together as a multifaith team to deliver chaplaincy". An ecumenical colleague.

For me Pat, for all his skills, his prayerfulness, his energy for hard work, helped people to see Jesus above all through his huge capacity for friendship, unforced and unagendad, real, refreshingly human. What a terrible loss he is at such a young age at the peak it seems of his ministry.

But as his friends and his family gathered today, as colleagues, as brother priests and dear sisters of the Tyburn Community, I wonder what Pat wants to say to us today? Each one of us knew him differently so the message will be different to each of us. But I think there might be one thing which leaps out as the heart of the matter which Pat would want to focus on and impress on us - in his own inimitable and direct way. Now seeing what he sees, enjoying the new life we hope trustfully in the Risen Christ he enjoys, he would not want us to be sad, however tough that is right now. And if you want to hear the real Funeral homily may I simply direct you to the Tyburn website to listen to Fr Pat's homily on August 6th this year for the Feast of the Transfiguration (listen here: http://adoration.tyburnconvent.org.uk/audio-mass.html) - it is, as the nuns have remarked, almost as though he was being prepared. Here Pat speaks powerfully about hope - hope not in something uncertain but in eternal life which is promised us - and so he says we need not be afraid.

The sisters themselves were sure of Pat's great faith. It was a great consolation to read the personal tributes from so many of them, too many to read out, but they all spoke of how their chaplain was a wonderful Christian witness through the exercise of his duties but also his deep personal faith. Evident, they recall, even in his last days. "He was like a father to us… a priest through and through… one of the best chaplains that Tyburn Convent has seen… always faithful, self-effacing and a marvellous sense of humour..." Mother General encourages us in particular to read and listen to those last homilies to take his words to heart, because, as she says, "he lived them".

Our Faith as Christians rests on our firm belief in eternal life: and what is that faith? We know in our heads as Christians what we believe - death is not the end - life is changed - we have the hope, the sure hope of heaven, to be one with the Lord who will welcome us as a loving father. But on occasions like this we're called - all of us - to take it to heart. For each one of us, of whatever faith or none, to heed Pat's lesson that his faith had taught him not to be afraid of death. That was clear to me in the last days as he wanted so badly to return to Tyburn to make his final journey and there he did as he had done throughout his life, joined in Christian prayer with the sisters and his friends, praying trustfully with great calm to be welcomed home by the Lord, as he concelebrated Mass, received Holy Communion, prayed the rosary. The prayers and the huge job of personal care from the sisters, especially Sr Thomasina who cared so sensitively, skilfully, and selflessly for Pat throughout all this time, signalled a final period of role reversal, as Pat indeed succumbed to the call of the Lord to place his spirit in God's hands. His faith taught him that when the hour came he had nothing to fear. And so we must take our lead from Pat himself.

I'm sure that a faith, a hope in some kind of afterlife, of whatever faith we are members or no faith in particular, is part and parcel of the lives of most of us here today. And that faith which speaks to us all is somehow deeper and somehow simpler when it invades our busy everyday lives through the death of a friend, brother, son, and so cruelly and untimely, at least to our human reckoning it is. So may Fr Pat teach us to enter more deeply into who Jesus really is, so when the hour comes we are ready. May Pat inspire us to grow in a living, joyful, peaceful, faith, a faith which invites us to give thanks to our personal God for the gift of a life lived out to the full by Pat. A life which shows us Jesus.

May the Saints of God, especially the Tyburn martyrs, welcome his soul into the peace and the joy of heaven. May Our Blessed Lady, Mother of all who mourn, pray for Pat's dear mother Theresa and all who mourn the loss of this faithful Christian disciple, this faithful good priest. And may Fr Pat now watch over us, intercede for us, and show us more clearly how to die and how to live.

Tags: Fr Patrick Cope, Prison Chaplaincy, Archbishop Peter Smith, Fr Dominic Robinson

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