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Daniel left us at 9.30pm on Monday the 10th of September this year (2007). It was not long after his close friends Clodagh and Florence Murphy had left his bedside. He lay in the ITU in Ealing Hospital. He had been admitted and discharged several times these last months as complications set in making care increasingly difficult. The hospital rang up Brother Joe, his French confrère who had come over from France to attend to Daniel's needs. Brother Joe promptly came to the hospital and walked into the ITU where there were some other patients. A lady in the bed opposite Daniel's bed called Brother Joe over to her side. She said: "That man, just before he died, waved at me and said something I could not understand". I think that sums up Daniel the man. In his last days he wanted to see fewer and fewer people, just his best friends. This gave him more time to commune alone with the ALONE. But Daniel, the gregarious person he was, had to say good bye - presumably in French, his mother tongue - to a fellow human being.
I met Daniel first in 1993 when on a sabbatical in London. I started frequenting the interfaith meetings he, Fr Michael Barnes and Sr Elizabeth West used to organise, many of them at the former Jesuit House in Osterley. Daniel impressed me by his warm personality, his penetrating eyes, his patriarchal beard, his booming voice, his breath of vision and his wide range of friends drawn from people of all faiths. In a sense he was eccentric often wearing a Muslim cap and driving an old model Renault, the "little car" as people used to call it. He used to drive me out of my wits when, sitting next to him in the car, he would drive for quite long distances without holding the wheel. He always reassured me not to worry as the car knew the way by heart, he would say with a chuckle. He was distinctive and idiosyncratic.
I got closer to Daniel when I joined the Westminster Interfaith team. I got to see what a good organiser he was. He was very ordered in his life, a tireless worker with incredible energy. Some of his great achievements are the multifaith prayer service during the Gulf War, the launching of F.A.R. with Michael Feeney in the Chelsea Town Hall, and of course, the annual multifaith pilgrimages that became a model for others in the UK and beyond. I still vividly remember him coming to my house and telling me how difficult it was to persuade the Westminster Cathedral administrator to let leaders of other faiths speak from the sanctuary and to let the banners with quotes from non-Christian scriptures be hung around the Cathedral. These were new things unheard of before and one understands the unease they caused. But Daniel was driven with a powerful conviction of the mind of the Second Vatican Council to welcome all that is true and holy in other religions. For him this was a way of showing it. So, up went the banners and the guests from other Faiths spoke from the sanctuary. The 10th anniversary of the Assisi meeting was duly celebrated in Westminster Cathedral. It was resounding success and people still talk about it.
Brother Daniel was widely read. He thought a lot and read well the signs of the times. He also prayed in depth for long periods. I think he was not a theologian in the academically accepted sense. He sometimes spoke dismissively of some theologians as men with their heads in the air and their feet not firmly on the ground. In his book; "Prayer of Hope of an Interfaith RC Christian" he wrote of theologians; "...do you know what I think, Lord? I think that theologians are very often afraid of admitting your all-embracing love." With Daniel, anything that could be called theological was drawn from prayer and meditation as well as his personal contact with ordinary people - people of all Faiths.
His love for the Church was robust, mature and solid. It bore no trace of servility or false humility. There was no way of making him feel infantilised. As a true son of French liberal ancestors, he did not spare some Church men in his criticism, even if this was done with discretion and in the appropriate fora. You always knew were you stood with Daniel. There was no guile in him. Jokingly he often told me about people he did not like: "I love him, but I do not like him".
I got to know Daniel even more closely when the time came for me to be offered by Cardinal Hume the responsibility of taking over from Daniel - to run Westminster Interfaith. Daniel was always there for advice and valued support while leaving me free to do the job the way I wanted. He introduced me to people. He passed on to me his mailing list. I valued his support greatly. I kept visiting him from time to time to keep him au courant and to ask for advice. After every issue of the newsletter he would send me an email commenting favourably on things he liked. This meant a lot to me as such people could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Daniel was also a personal friend and I feel I have received from him more than I gave. We shared a lot - ideas, information, and often a good joke. I often came back from his house with a bottle of French wine. I helped sell many of his books and still do for his last work, Transcendence. Whenever I rang him up announcing myself I was always ready to hear a big welcoming voice: "Alfred, c'est toi" and when I told him about some problem I was grappling with, he would come back with; "You see, my dear, what interfaith does to you." Daniel was interested in all sports and followed events avidly. He knew my wife was a keen Scouser and when Liverpool won he would ring to congratulate us and commiserate when we lost. He loved classical music which I could hear in the background whenever I visited him. He had a passion for fishing which he got from his grandfather. He loved fishing whether it was back in Thailand when he went on picnics with his school staff or in Ireland where he went for holidays every year.
In the last years of his life Daniel wrote a book called Approaching the Other Shore with quotes from all faiths about the afterlife. He was seeing many of his friends passing away, people who reached the other shore. Among them was the Venerable Dr Vajirajnana, the head of the London Buddhist Vihara who died earlier this year. Daniel was devastated at not being able to go to the funeral. He was a spiritually intimate friend of the holy monk. Once I saw them in a corner engaged in a long, quiet spiritual tête-à-tête. With their faces aglow and softly smiling I would have paid anything to partake of this heavenly exchange. I asked Daniel to write a brief write-up about the venerable monk for the newsletter. Daniel struggled to produce something. It was difficult for him to put his feelings in words. Daniel wrote: "A blessing meeting you, listening to you, exchanging with you, meditating with you, being a pilgrim with you. A blessing when our spiritual selves will meet again on the Other Shore."
I look at the sky sometimes and wonder where they might be – and when I might catch up with them.
Alfred AgiusReturn to top