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'The poor people of Iraq will always remember Margaret'

posted on 11 December 2004
Family and friends mourn murdered aid worker at Westminster Cathedral

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster today paid tribute to Margaret Hassan at a solemn service at Westminster Cathedral attended by family and friends of the murdered aid worker.

The service, which was led by the Archbishop of Westminster, was held at 12.30 pm today and lasted one and a half hours.

Preaching on the Beatitudes, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor described Margaret Hassan as 'a peacemaker in a time of seemingly endless wars' who 'hungered and thirsted for justice for the Iraqi people'.

'She was persecuted - brutally slain - because she was working in the cause of right,' he told a congregation of around 2,000.

The Irish-born aid worker, who dedicated the last 15 years of her life to helping the poor of Iraq, was abducted in Baghdad on 19 October while on her way to the offices of Care International. On 16 November, following a video showing her execution, her Iraqi husband Tahseen accepted that she was dead. Her body has not been recovered.

'The poor people of Iraq will always remember Margaret,' the Cardinal said. 'She has become a symbol of goodness in a world crying our for goodness.'

'I have described her as a 'martyr' . The word 'martyr' means 'witness'. Margaret witnessed, in both her life and her death, to the act of loving.'

The service - a Mass according to the Roman Catholic funeral rite, but without a coffin - was attended by family and friends of the murdered aid worker. A picture of Margaret holding a sickly child was positioned close to the altar to act as a focus of grief.

Margaret's three sisters and brother were among the mourners, but not Tahseen, her husband, who is in Iraq.

The readings and hymns were chosen by the family. They included Latin plainchant, which Margaret loved. The choir sang the plainsong introit from the Mass for the Dead, and Versa est in luctum by Alonso Lobo (c. 155-1617): ' My harp is turned to mourning and my music into the sound of weeping / Spare me, Lord, for my days are as nothing.'

The final hymn was the rousing 'How Great Thou Art'.

The intercessions were read by a family friend. They included a prayer 'for all those who despise war and the suffering it causes, and for our government that they may choose a way to lead us to peace instead of war.'

Margaret Hassan was an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, as well as of the sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s. She chose to remain in the country long after other aid agencies pulled out their expatriate workers.

At the end of the intercessions, the Cardinal prayed:

'Almighty Father, we ask you to hear our prayers for our sister Margaret, that she might win the inheritance of your eternal Kingdom.'

A tribute to the slain aid worker was read by a family friend, Patrick O'Ryan-Roeder. He described a woman who was inspirational, educational, and tireless.

'Life is one opportunity,' he said. 'Margaret never wasted one minute of that opportunity.'

After the service, O'Ryan-Roeder appeared on the steps of the cathedral to read two brief statements to the press. The first, on behalf of the family, expressed gratitude for the messages of sympathy sent from around the world. The family also thanked the media for respecting their privacy.

The second statement paid tribute to the family of Margaret Hassan.

'I know that our thoughts and prayers have always been with Margaret, and I believe they should also be extended to her immediate family, as they try to come to terms with their devastating loss - a loss made all the more difficult to bear as we approach the festive season in the Christian calendar.'
- Please contact Austen Ivereigh for copies of the Cardinal's homily, the tribute, the step statement, and the obituary as it appears in the service sheet.

- Despite press reports to the contrary, Margaret Hassan never converted to Islam but remained a practising Catholic to the end of her life. The Mass therefore followed the Roman Catholic rite for funerals.

- The family are not giving interviews.
Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 11 December 2004

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