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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK


Order of Merit for ailing cardinal

Cardinal Basil Hume: Honoured by the Queen's personal decision

By BBC News Online's Alex Kirby

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Basil Hume, is to be given the Order of Merit.

The BBC's Emily Buchanan: One of the highest orders
The OM is limited to 24 holders at any time, with the addition of foreign honorary members.

It is designed as a special distinction which can be awarded to eminent people without conferring a knighthood upon them.

It is awarded on the personal decision of the sovereign, without any need of advice from ministers.

Cardinal Hume, 76, was found last month to be suffering from inoperable abdominal cancer.

He told Catholics at the time that he hoped to live to inaugurate the church's millennium celebrations.

In a statement, he said: "I am deeply touched that Her Majesty the Queen should have so graciously conferred upon me the Order of Merit.

"I would like to think it is a recognition of the part played by Her Majesty's loyal Catholic subjects - laity, clergy and bishops - in the life of the nation."

Hospital visits

The arrangements for the Cardinal's investiture have not yet been completed.

He is continuing to work as normally as possible, coping with correspondence and with diocesan and other church affairs between visits to hospital for treatment.

[ image: Ill, but coping with as much work as he can]
Ill, but coping with as much work as he can
The Order of Merit was instituted by King Edward VII in 1902 as a special mark of favour for individuals of distinction.

Its award to Cardinal Hume is believed to mark the highest civil honour given to any Catholic leader in recent times.

Another Catholic holder of the OM, until her death in 1997, was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an honorary foreign member.

The Catholic Church is far closer to the centre of religious and civil life in Britain than it was a few years ago.

But it would almost certainly be wrong to see this award as acknowledgement of the role of the church as an institution.

It is, more simply, a recognition of a remarkable person.

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18 Apr 99 | UK
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