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Sunday, April 18, 1999 Published at 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK


Country prays for Catholic leader

Archbishop of Westminster Basil Hume: "Calm and at peace"

Congregations across the country have been praying for Cardinal Basil Hume, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who revealed on Saturday he has inoperable cancer.

Hundreds of people attended a solemn sung mass at Westminster Cathedral to hear prayers for the cardinal, who is also Archbishop of Westminster.

[ image: Many went to mass especially for the cardinal]
Many went to mass especially for the cardinal
Members of the congregation said they were shocked and saddened by his illness, and had asked God to strengthen and sustain him.

"It was a real shock to hear that he has cancer, especially because he looked so well during Holy Week," said Maite Cork, 25, from south London, a regular mass-goer.

Another member of the congregation said: "The cardinal is such a great man and is an example to us all.

"I think this is a pointer to everyone about how to face up to this terrible disease. Our thoughts are with him."

Religious Affairs Correspondent Alex Kirby: "Business as usual for as long as possible"
The 76-year-old cardinal was due to attend mass at a church in Headstone, Middlesex, on Sunday but instead stayed at home to rest.

He is however expected to hold a memorial mass at Westminster Cathedral on Monday for Bishop Patrick Casey, who died in January.

Several messages of goodwill have been sent to the cardinal.

Religious Affairs Correspondent Alex Kirby: "He is calm and at peace"
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said: "I am so sorry to learn of the serious nature of Cardinal Hume's illness.

"His faithful acceptance of the situation and his ability to look forward with determination and with hope is typical of the man whom we know, love and respect.

"Cardinal Hume can depend on my support. He will be in my prayers and in the prayers of the whole nation in the months ahead."

Lord Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who has himself suffered from cancer for the past five years, said: "I am full of sympathy for Basil Hume and eager to add my prayers to the many that will be said for him.

"As a fellow-sufferer, my feelings are of understanding and sympathy for him."

No public statement

Cardinal Hume has made no public statement about his illness. But his staff have given the BBC copies of letters he has written to fellow bishops in England and Wales, and to clergy in his archdiocese.

The letters read: "You may have heard that I have recently been in hospital for tests.

"The result: I have cancer, and it is not in its early stages.

"I have received two wonderful graces. First, I have been given time to prepare for a new future.

"Secondly, I find myself - uncharacteristically - calm and at peace."

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