Homily at Requiem Mass for Bishop Victor Guazzelli, 11 June 2004
posted on 11 June 2004
Bishop George Stack:
'Each one gathered in Westminster Cathedral today will have a unique memory of Victor Guazzelli. For his family, a devoted brother, brother in law and uncle. They know that they were the solid foundation of his life and all that he could be to others. For his other family, the priests of the Diocese of Westminster, he was a dedicated priest and a compassionate bishop. The presence of so many of us witness to his unconditional love for priests and the priesthood. To the people of the Diocese at large, and the East End in particular, he was simply 'Father Victor'. Countless thousands of people saw him as the constant, caring face of the Church. And for the many organisations and institutions he served, the memory is a man of total commitment, willing to take risks, passionate for justice, his hand outstretched to those who were marginalized for any reason whatsoever.
How did he adapt himself to the many different circumstances and responsibilities that were placed on him? How did he hold together his love for the Church and its people, yet challenge both himself and others to see a new vision, new possibilities, a new hope?
I think, the clue lies in his favourite passage from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans which we heard today. He preached on this text often. 'The whole of creation, as we know, is groaning in one long act of giving birth. We, too, groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free'. He was convinced that tensions, disagreements, misunderstandings, mistakes in personal lives, breakdown of relationships, the misuse of authority, were all part of the struggle and responsibility we have, to bring God's creation to fulfilment. The struggle we all have to hold together an understanding of God's work in a confused world and perhaps confusing life. This was balanced by his conviction that no one is cut off 'from the hope that we shall be saved and our salvation is something for which we must wait with patience'.
And he did 'Wait on the Lord with patience'. Those of us who were privileged to know him in the last five years of his life here at Westminster Cathedral know that. He drew enormous strength from his one hour prayer at 6.0'clock every morning in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. He 'waited with patience' on those who sought forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Countless numbers of penitents will know that he was always available beyond the call of duty, beyond any timetable, to hear confessions. He regarded this work as a privilege. He was grateful to the priests and sisters of the Cathedral, the staff at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and those at Trinity Hospice for enabling him to serve so long.
Being a priest was not something Victor did. It was who he was. His life could be summed up in that extract from the priestly prayer of Jesus we heard in today's gospel. 'I want those you have given me to see your glory'. Victor was convinced that 'The glory of God is humanity fully alive'. He was never happier than when he saw people fulfilling their potential. He was passionate about an informed, educated laity, exercising their baptismal responsibility at all levels and in every area of the life of the Church. Above all, he was the great 'enabler' as his time in London's East End showed.
Even his final illness was an opportunity for him to challenge and inspire. He never showed self pity or recrimination at what he was suffering. Every person who visited him in these last few months went away uplifted. But there were surely times when he echoed in the silence of his heart the words of the Book of Lamentations 'And now I say my strength is gone, that hope which came from the Lord'. He would not be human if he had not sometimes thought 'my spirit ponders it continually and sinks within me'. Yet how often his visitors were invited to join him in saying the Rosary. How much he loved watching Mass on the TV screen at St. Peter's, Vauxhall, when he could no longer celebrate Mass himself. How grateful he was to receive the loving care and prayerful embrace of the Sisters and Staff at that heavenly place.
So when he was almost unconscious, yet knew the people he loved were around him, he would still raise those beautiful hands perhaps in a blessing, certainly in a prayer. I am sure, deep within him, were the words of the second half of that Old Testament reading:
'This is what I shall tell my heart
and so recover hope:
The favours of the Lord are not all past,
His kindnesses are not exhausted.
Every morning they are renewed.
Great is his faithfulness.'
Thank you, Victor, for your warm and open heart. Thank you for your example of faith, hope, courage and service. Thank you for reminding us of the faithfulness of God and the signs of his love for us being renewed every morning, if only we can see them. Help us to learn, at this time of mourning and sadness at your loss, that 'It is good to wait in silence for the Lord to save'. During this Mass we pray for the salvation of your holy soul and the souls of all the faithful departed. May they rest in peace. Amen'.