On a crisp and sombre November day at a packed out Westminster Cathedral, His Eminence Cardinal Nichols was the Principal Celebrant at the Requiem Mass for Sir David Amess MP, who had been MP for Southend West until his murder on October 15th at a parliamentary surgery. His body lay to rest in the crypt of St Mary’s Undercroft, in the Palace of Westminster, the night before the Requiem Mass. This was also where all five of his children had been christened.
Among the other celebrants were His Excellency Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Nuncio to Great Britain, the Right Reverend Alan Williams, Bishop of Brentwood, Rev Canon Pat Browne – who married Sir David at the cathedral and who gave a moving personal homily – the Roman Catholic Priest for Parliament.
Reflecting the respect and esteem with which Sir David was held both within parliament – on all sides – and in his constituency of Southend, and previously Basildon, political colleagues present included the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, various members of the Cabinet, former Prime Ministers Sir John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May, the Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the Commons.
The service was as colourful, eclectic and memorable as Sir David himself, reflecting his infectious humour, his deep religious and political convictions – and his tireless work for charities, notably in animal welfare.
As Ann Widdecombe said In her eulogy: ‘As an MP he was indefatigable and uncompromising. As a former Conservative Chief Whip said, David took two whips: the Conservative one and the Catholic one but fortunately they rarely clashed’.
David was later to lead the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Holy See. Anecdotal highlights of the service included the time he was in Rome for a blessing by Pope Benedict and reached in his pockets to have his rosary blessed, only to pull out a selection of ‘boiled sweets’ instead which were duly blessed by the Holy Father.
The tragedy of his death was lifted by anecdotes from the various speakers that conveyed his personal mission to being a devout Catholic. As Sir David wrote to the Herald just before his death: ‘My Catholic faith has sustained me through my period as a Member of Parliament guiding all aspects of my life’.
As attendees took their seats for the 10.30am Mass, they were graced with a performance by the Music Man Project of Southend. The Southend Mencap Music School encourages people with learning disabilities to develop musical skills. They performed a touching version of ‘Peace and Hope’ by David Stanley, an unusual contrast to the first hymn which was the Welsh folk tune St Denio adapted by John Roberts before the cathedral’s choristers reverted back to more traditional requiem choral territory to sing the Plainsong Missa Pro Defunctis.
Next came a personal message from Pope Francis which was delivered by the Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Papal Nuncio to Great Britain. The Pope conveyed ‘his heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness’ to Sir David’s wife Julia and the Amess family.
‘His Holiness recalls with gratitude Sir David’s years of devoted public service guided by his strong Catholic faith and evidenced in his deep concern for the poor… and his commitment to the defence of God’s gift of life and his efforts to foster understanding and cooperation with the Holy See in its universal mission’.
Commending Sir David’s soul to the ‘loving mercy of Jesus Christ our Saviour’ the Holy Father referenced the brutal manner of his murder – stabbed in a Methodist church during his Friday surgery by a British man of Somali heritage – by praying that all who honour Sir David’s memory will ‘reject the ways of violence’ and to combat evil with good (cf. Rom. 12:21).
The first reading – from the Book of Wisdom (3: 1-9 – was read by US Congressman Robert Miller Pittenger. Once again the reading was carefully chosen. ‘In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like disaster… but they are at peace’.
Then a remarkably touching and heartfelt homily by Canon Pat Browne, Roman Catholic Priest for Parliament who not only married Sir David – just three months after he had first been elected as MP for Basildon in 1983 – but also baptised all of his five children in St Mary’s Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster. His homily:
‘Over 38 years ago David Amess, Julia and I stood on this sanctuary. They were getting married and I was officiating at the wedding. He was the newly-elected MP for Basildon, just 3 months into the job.
‘Friendship was David’s great gift to others’ Canon Browne said. ‘Not just to those who worked alongside him and agreed with him but to everyone in the House including those who did not share his political or religious views’.
He gave the example of an opposition MP who had ‘made up her mind’ she would not have friendly relations with any opposition MPs. But when she met David, she had to change her mind. That promise “was impossible to sustain with David Amess because he was so friendly and so prepared to work together with other MPs on common causes”.
Canon Pat also described the famous ‘boiled sweet episode’ which occurred in St Peter’s Square in Rome. When the Pope passed by him, David struggled to find in his pocket his rosary beads. Seeking to pull them out for the Pope to bless, he presented instead a boiled sweet in its packet. Which Pope Benedict innocently blessed and moved on’.
Similarly Quixotic was the story of when, after he was knighted, Amess decided to eccentrically dress up as a knight and ride along the streets of Southend. ‘These things enabled others to laugh with him. His genuine charm, wit and warmth broke through many barriers as he looked for those things in others that they could agree on and work together’.
David was also serious, Canon Pat added. ‘For him, life was a gift to be gratefully accepted, cherished, nourished and lived to the full. He took his life in his two hands and threw himself into it. Indeed, he died doing so, in service of others. As today’s Gospel tells us “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends… his constituents, his country. David did so’.
We heard how his Catholic faith ‘informed his passionate commitment to the very right to life, to human dignity and to the common good’. But it was also rooted in his absolute conviction that an MP’s first priority was to their constituents. ‘He was his own man and he swam against the tide when it was a matter of conscience. And whether or not people agreed or disagreed with him on a particular issue no one could but admire his integrity – exercised at times at great cost to himself’.
Other highlights included the Leigh Orpheus Male Voice Choir sung in Welsh and the Communion Motet by Sir Edward Elgar. In her eulogy, Ann Widdecombe, Dame of St Gregory, set out his life’s journey with wit and directness, summing up how Sir David was the consummate British politician who was far removed from the Oxbridge Establishment mould.
The son of an electrician and a seamstress from East London, he studied economics and government at Bournemouth University before being elected as a Conservative Councillor in Redbridge in 1982 and then a year later as MP for Basildon, entering the House of Commons in 1983.
She became a close friend of David as they were both ‘ardent pro-lifers’ and campaigned against abortion together. When campaigning for his Private Members’ Bill, the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act, David arrived at Parliament on horseback.
‘Given that he could not ride and that the traffic was quite heavy, I admired his courage. He looked surprised, assuring me that it was quite easy: one just sat on the horse’.
She endearingly added that going to dinner with David required occasional patience. ‘No waiter could take an order without first giving an account of his life history, it was impossible to tear him away from a function because he always wanted to talk to someone else and as a consequence was always late for everything’.
His interest in people was matched by his interest in animals. His wife never quite knew what species would be residing in their house or garden next. ‘Where other MPs filled their offices with filing cabinets, conference tables and computers, David filled his with aquariums and bird cages. The inhabitants were illegal on the parliamentary estate but such was the affection in which David was held that not even the long suffering cleaners and security men reported him’.
She ended by quoting St Paul who wrote in prison as he awaited execution: “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course.” David Amess fought many good fights, he certainly kept the faith and now, sadly for those left behind but gloriously for him in Heaven, David Amess has finished his course’
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund