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Bishop Victor Guazzelli dies (obituary)

posted on 02 June 2004
Bishop Victor Guazzelli, former Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, died peacefully in his sleep during the night of Tuesday, 1 June 2004.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, made the following statement:

'The Diocese of Westminster mourns the death of a much-loved priest and bishop. Bishop Victor Guazzelli was held in the highest esteem and affection by everyone with whom he came in contact. His life as a pastor was moulded by the Second Vatican Council which he strove to put into effect in all aspects of his ministry. Above all, Bishop Victor was a man of deep compassion. People from far and wide came to him for counsel, comfort and understanding. Everyone in the Diocese of Westminster and far beyond will give thanks to God for his life, his example and his ministry. May he rest in peace'.

Bishop George Stack writes:

The love affair between Victor Guazzelli and the country and people of Portugal began in 1935. In that year he travelled to Lisbon as a fifteen year old boy to begin studying for the priesthood at the English College. Founded in 1628, the College continued to educate students for the priesthood until its closure in 1970. In those pre war years, it was not unusual for gifted boys to be sent abroad to study in this way. Guazzelli was well suited to the challenge of continental Catholicism as son of Italian immigrants born in London's East End on 19 March 1920. His proud Italian father pointed out to the impressionable teenager that, as the only son, the family name would not be carried on were he ordained a priest Nonetheless he gave the young Victor his blessing as he set off on his journey from Southampton early on a September morning.

The declaration of war in 1939 ensured that the separation from home and family lasted even longer than expected. Students and priests at the English College became exiles from their own country for over ten years. Not only had Guazzelli left England as a boy to return as a priest after the war, but his father had died in the meantime.

His natural urbanity and gift for languages made Victor Guazzelli ideal for his first appointment in London to the cosmopolitan parish of St. Patrick, Soho Square where he ministered from 1945 until 1948. He was recalled to Lisbon to teach scripture and act as Bursar to the College for the next ten years. The first task was a privilege and a delight, giving him a lifelong love of scripture and gift for preaching. The second was not to his liking! In 1958 he was appointed first as chaplain and then Sub Administrator to the colourful Mgr. Francis Bartlett at Westminster Cathedral. These were tumultuous years as the Church at large and the Cathedral in particular tried to digest the liturgical changes envisaged by the Second Vatican Council.

Appointed Parish Priest to St. Thomas' Church in Fulham in 1968 he thrived on the joy of being a parish priest. Sadly, this was not to last too long as Cardinal Heenan, recognising the respect in which he was held, made him Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Westminster. In 1970 he was created an Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese and was particularly proud of the Titular See of Lindisfarne to which he was appointed. He was even more proud and grateful when the membership committee of the Shooters Hill Golf Club recognised Lindisfarne as an off-shore island. It qualified him as an 'overseas' member and allowed him to indulge his lifelong passion for golf at a fee he could afford! He was grateful for his association with his local golf club which was literally a tunnel ride away from his beloved Poplar.

For almost thirty years he gave himself in unstinted service to the priests and people of the Diocese. When, in 1976, Cardinal Basil Hume created Pastoral Areas to be served by his Auxiliary Bishops, Victor Guazzelli was the natural choice to look after the London Boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. He thrived in these new responsibilities, identifying totally with the people of his birthplace. During the late 60's and throughout the 70' s when the East End of London was convulsed with industrial action at Wapping, the redevelopment of Canary Wharf, new tides of immigration, Guazzelli was able to speak with authority to workers, community leaders, the London Docklands Development Corporation. His was the authority of one who lived amidst the people. He was not afraid to challenge the injustices they experienced as the traditional way of life was being changed at their expense. He used his influence to identify the structures of injustice using his voice for the voiceless. Recognising the need for a new style of ministry amongst priests emphasising 'mission' rather than 'maintenance' he gathered around himself a group of diocesan priests who would conduct six week intensive missions and programmes of lay formation in parishes. Affectionately known as 'The God Squad' this experiment was visionary and challenging. He regarded it as one of the most fruitful times of his episcopate.

His passion for justice involved him in the work of Pax Christi whose President he became in 1975. This necessarily involved him in sometimes unpopular, often controversial causes. His gentle, reassuring style ensured that disagreements did not result in conflict. His first hand experience of the social and demographic changes taking place in the East End of London made him ideally qualified for the Inter Faith dialogue which he pursued seriously. This also made him the obvious choice as Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Faith and Cultures. Pax Christi paid tribute to his easy rapport in international groups and his moral courage on the subject of war and disarmament: 'We have appreciated his willingness to do the right thing and to 'stick his neck out' when necessaryhe identified with ordinary peopleand attempted to make justice a priority for the East London area.'

In 1993, as the Bishops' representative on the Apostleship of the Sea, he took a leading role in reinvigorating and reconstructing this important outreach of the Church to seafarers throughout the world by means of a series of 'Port Chaplaincies'. His Portuguese connection made him the ideal candidate to visit Bishop Bello in East Timor on two occasions, each at the height of the civil conflict between that fledgling democracy and Indonesia. Long before the injustices experienced by the people of East Timor were recognised by the West, Guazzelli was lobbying government and Church agencies on the human rights which were being violated there.

In undertaking these visits he offered outstanding personal and pastoral support to the isolated and virtually unknown Bishop Bello. Guazzelli was gratified when the international community eventually recognised Bello's extraordinary in defence of human rights with the award of the Nobel Prize. As a member of the Latin American Desk of the Catholic Relief Agency CAFOD, he visited various programmes organised by CAFOD in Brazil during 1981 and demonstrated an enduring commitment to Latin America. He served for the last decade on CAFOD's Latin America Committee. At different times Cardinal Arns and Archbishop Helder Camara came to see him at his home in East London. Once more, his vision of Episcopal ministry extended far beyond his responsibilities in Westminster.

He will be remembered by generations of Lisbonians for the skilful way in which he negotiated with the government of Portugal over the closure of the English College in Lisbon and the maintenance of an English Catholic presence in that country. His passion for golf, shared by many of his fellow clergy, was indulged in the house he established in Faro both as a place of recreation and retreat for priests from all over England.

Three years after the normal age of retirement for Bishops, Victor Guazzelli left Pope John House in Poplar, and the community of the Faith
Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 02 June 2004

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