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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
In full: Bishop of London address
Bishop of London
The Bishop of London talked about Princess Diana's work
The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres, addressed the congregation at the thanksgiving service for the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.

"Who's cheating?" The scene is an old people's home. Two residents are playing [card game] beggar-my-neighbour. Enter the princess. The question from the royal visitor is unexpected, but everyone laughs. Afterwards they comment on her large eyes and what life she brought into the room.

One tiny incident, characteristic of countless other occasions in the princess's public life in which she found the right word or the right gesture to bring cheer and comfort.

Everyone here will have their own memories.

I remember meeting Princess Diana for the very first time early in 1981 to discuss details of the wedding service in St Paul's. Even archbishop's chaplains have their share of proper diffidence and I was nervous entering the presence.

It must have been a bewildering time for the princess as well, but even then, at the age of 20, her capacity for empathy and her very strong intuitive power ensured that any tension soon evaporated.

Prince Harry has spoken movingly and justly, as few others have the right to do, about the princess as a mother. I want to dwell for a moment on her public work, its cost and its meaning.

National unity

After her marriage, the princess joined her natural gifts of beauty, empathy and powerful intuition with that extraordinary charge which association with the Royal Family generates.

Led by our Queen and other members of the Royal Family, our constitution has developed in response to the challenges of the past century.

There is a properly political sphere in which the monarch may counsel but doesn't intrude, but there is another sphere, vital to any sense of national unity and creativity, a sphere in which communities must be celebrated, common values articulated and the transcendent source of those values honoured.

We tend to be suspicious of public figures who wrap themselves in divinity and claim that their will is God's will, but if no-one can articulate in an un-ignorable way in the public realm the creative energy of the love that we see in Christ, the human face of God, then we shall find ourselves inhabiting a maimed and diminished society.

And at a time when people are suspicious of rhetoric, the monarchy communicates by symbol and by simple speech, and the princess brought her own gifts to this work.

She was still only 26 in 1987 when she shook the hand of a patient at the opening of the Middlesex Hospital's Aids ward. It was the first in the UK and it is very hard now to credit the degree of fear and prejudice which surrounded Aids in the 80s.

Those familiar with the field have no doubt that the princess played a significant part in overcoming a harmful and even a cruel taboo in a gesture which was not choreographed but sprung from a deep identification with those who were vulnerable and on the margin.

And she had a similar impact in the USA. An editorial in the New York Times in 1989 admitted ruefully that it had taken a foreign, and even a royal, dignitary to draw attention to a major public health concern in the US.

Royal healers

Her work in the very last year of her life for the victims of landmines also caught the popular imagination internationally and certainly accelerated the adoption of the Ottawa Convention, banning the use of a weapon which disproportionately kills and maims women and children.

She proved the eloquence of embrace and of touch which, of course, have been used by royal healers throughout the centuries.

And as she said, in her words, "the biggest disease today is not leprosy or TB but the feeling of being unwanted". She sought out places of suffering, because they are so very often places of truth where the masks have been removed, and she was not afraid to be with the dying and to comfort them in an unsentimental way.

Bill Deedes accompanied her on some of her visits. His response to the cynics was typically robust.

He said: "She was one who sought above all to help vulnerable people in society and who did it so well. She was good at this because she herself was vulnerable. She knew the feeling. She didn't set out to be a saint."

The role brought great power but, like any member of the Royal Family, she also experienced the weight of expectation and the intensity of the scrutiny.

Honouring but managing the role and not allowing it to take over one's personal humanity is a desperately difficult task. As we have heard from Prince Harry, his mother, Diana, did all that she could to prepare her sons for the work which lies ahead.

She confessed to receiving a very great deal from some of those whose lives she touched.

She said of John, a young Greek suffering from cystic fibrosis: "He showed no sign of anger, no trace of bitterness but touched us all with an aura of optimism and hope for the future such that I have never before encountered."

Scoring points

The love of Christ described in the lesson read by Prince William contains the essence of the spiritual life. Princess Diana recognised this quality of life in many of those, like John, whose lives she touched.

It was a mystery which resonated deeply with her and for which she reached out.

And the mystery is this - the more you go beyond yourself, the more you will become your true self; the more you lose yourself in loving and serving others, the more you will find yourself; the more you keep company with those who suffer, the more you will be healed.

This is the knowledge which passes all understanding. This is certain and has been proved experimentally in the life of all the saints.

It's easy to lose the real person in the image, to insist that all is darkness or all is light.

Still, 10 years after her tragic death, there are regular reports of fury at this or that incident, and the princess's memory is used for scoring points. Let it end here.

Let this service mark the point at which we let her rest in peace and dwell on her memory with thanksgiving and compassion.

Let us also, echoing the words of Prince Harry, look to the future and pray, in the words of St Paul, for all those who serve our country as members of the Royal Family and most especially for the sons who were so precious to her.

I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have power with all the saints to grasp what is the breadth and length and depth and height of the love of Christ and to know this love which surpasses knowledge that you might be filled with the fullness of God. Amen.



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The Bishop of London speaks to the congregation






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