THERE ARE a number of unprecedented features to Abbot Basil Hume's appointment as Archbishop of Westminster. He is not only the first monk to be appointed but he is only the second Archbishop of Westminster who was not previously a bishop. The other was Cardinal Manning.
Although mentioned early on as a possible choice, Abbot Hume did not figure much in the media's speculation, not because people thought him the wrong man, but because he has neither said nor done anything to catch the public eye.
Basil Hume was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on March 2, 1923. His father, Sir William Hume, was a heart surgeon and was nut a Catholic, and the five children owed their Catholic upbringing to their French mother. One of his sisters is now married to Sir John Hunt, Secretary to the Cabinet.
Ile still identifies with the north east where he grew up. Ile has supported Newcastle United since he was eight, and though he has spent all his life at Ampleforth, he denies that he has no contact with or knowledge of working class people.
He began at tilling Castle the preparatory school to Ampleforth, at the age of 10 and when he was 18, went straight into the monastery. At Oxford he studied history and then went to Fribourg in Switzerland where he studied theology.
He was ordained in 1950 and started teaching modern languages in the school, and at the same time taught dogmatic theology to the junior monks. In 1963, he was elected Abbot of Ampleforth and after serving the prescribed eight years, was re-elected to serve another term — a measure of his popularity.
Most of the 130 monks at Ampleforth live in the monastery and some of these work in the school. But 53 of them work in the Benedictine parishes of which there more than 30, many of them in tnoounghh west,
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As Abbot, Basil Hume has been responsible for visiting these priests and assessing their pastoral effectiveness. In a sense he has had the responsibilities of a bishop but it could be suggested that he has little direct pastoral experience. He has however encouraged the parish monks to adopt team ministries and identify more closely with the people they serve.
Ampleforth has changed a lot under his guidance and opened to the world around it. Abbot Hume has tried to bring the monastery into contact with the local people especially through encouraging them to use the new school sports complex.
A permanent guest house has been created from an old farm house next to the monastery and visitors are encouraged.
Abbot Hume also guided the new school building programme past considerable internal and external opposition and whatever the future of Ampleforth College, it has certainly amassed vast human and material resources for education.
Another of his main concerns has been ecumenism. He has been a friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury from the time when Dr Coggan was at York.
He is an active member of the local council of churches and has preached at a number of Methodist Churches. He was also chairman of the Benedictine Ecumenical Commission for four years.
Abbot Hume has also been very concerned about the Orthodox Churches and has even arranged for boys who belong to the Greek, Serbian or Russian Orthodox Churches to live near the school and attend it.
His appointment has been the result of the most extensive consultative process that has ever taken place before the appointment of a bishop in this country.
Archbishop Bruno Hiem, the Apostolic Delegate, canvassed a very broad spectrum of opinion to find a leader and thus put paid to the idea that there is a hierarchical career structure in the Church.
No one quite knows how his leadership will develop. It will certainly be very different to the tough but deft hand of the late Cardinal Heenan, whose astringent attitude to the world sprung from a defence of doctrines.
As Abbot Hume said himself, leadership in the last analysis depends on whether people will follow you willingly. As a rugby captain, he would give quiet words of encouragement to individual players rather than bawl from the back row. At the monastery Abbot Hume has travelled neither with the fastest nor the slowest but held the community together through difficult times. He has been greatly loved and respected for his fatherliness, and stresses the importance of listening to people, reflecting deeply and at length before reaching a decision.
It is these monkish qualities which will bring a spiritual dimension to Westminster.
Abbot Hume is better known for his toughness with himself than with other people. Choices will have to be made, and this requires a different quality to being endlessly gentle and understanding with people.
On many matters he can allow people, ideas, styles and the church structures to develop in their own way and not impose a rigid pattern from above, but there are some decisions, such as the future of the Cathedral, which will need a clear answer.
In these matters he will no doubt be ably assisted by his friend, fellow monk and auxiliary, Bishop Christopher Butler.
Abbot Hume's hero is St Anselm, another Benedictine archbishop, who despite a stormy career during the Church and State clashes after the Norman conquest, was the gentlest of saints and was a supreme master of that elusive art: reconciliation.