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Brother Daniel a Frenchman, who made Southall, Little India, a place of his own (8th April 1929 - 10th September 2007)
It was with great sadness that I heard the news of Brother Daniel's passing away from his young Sikh neighbour Jastinder Mahal. Brother Daniel lived and breathed interfaith. The attendance at his funeral service at the St Anslem's Church, Southall on Monday, 17th September 2007, was a testimony to the love and respect which his friends and fellow pilgrims on the interfaith journey and representatives of the local religious places and his own church, held for him. We were grateful for the opportunity to pay our last respect to him at the end of a moving ceremony, which included tributes from his French family.
The French side of his life was little known to us except that he had created a little French vineyard in his back garden. I was intrigued to hear from his sister's son, Yvonnick Pelletreau, that Daniel had decided in his teenage years that he would join the Brothers of St Gabriel, a Catholic teaching order. He showed me a fetching picture of Daniel in robes in 1947 as an 18 year old. As a 23 year old, he began his educational career in St Louis College, Bangkok in Thailand, quickly achieving the position of a headteacher. After 15 years there, he came to England. Out of the next forty years of his life, Southall was his home for 28 years.
It was in late 1979, when he visited the headquarters of the Ealing Community Education Team, based in Havelock Road, Southall, that I was introduced to him as a tutor with responsibility for language teaching and multi-cultural learning in the area. I could not work out why he would want to be in Southall, why did he wish to learn about and experience living with other religious communities and not do what quite a few other Christians were doing, using a variety of covert methods of conversion. Over a period, he gained the trust and friendship of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and in 1982, he founded Westminster Interfaith, with the blessings of Cardinal Hume and Bishop Gerald Mahon, with the clear aim of fostering interfaith understanding and co-operation. By that time both Ajit and I had become closely associated with his work.
For the next two decades, his enthusiasm for this work translated itself into new areas of interfaith exploration; People of faith walking together in Southall and in different parts of London and around once a year, inter-religious liturgy meetings, audience with holy people, inter-religious and awareness seminars, visits of students to places of worship, and compilation of books such as 'Transcendence', 'Southall, a holy city', 'Resources for multifaith celebrations', 'The Feminine and the Divine' and many more. His 'Prayer of Hope of an Interfaith RC Christian' is an essence of the faith of a man who saw God and spirituality beyond his own tradition as was his chapel at home, where we sometimes sat and meditated because he had made it a place of reverence of God's word in texts of different religions, draped in splendid fabrics. He knew in great detail about what was going on in Southall and had an encyclopaedic memory of people he knew both within his tradition and in the interfaith world.
As he grew older and felt unwell after his various operations, he began talking in his usual funloving and teasing way about the life hereafter. On one occasion when we visited him in the hospital after his heart procedure, there were many people from different religions, races and backgrounds visiting him, the nurses and hospital staff found him not the ordinary, run of the mill, patient but somebody who was very engaging in his eccentric way. In a joking manner, he said to us, "When I go back to my maker, I can now say to Him, I have come renewed", alluding to the operations he had had on his hip and other parts of his body as a consequence of which, he had gained 'new parts.' We had a good laugh and saw a funny side of the symbolism of 'renewal' in his way of coming to terms with what he had endured!
I would miss his telephone calls, the start of which sounded like, "Meesees Chaaraanjeet Aejitsieng, do you have a couple of minutes?" And then whatever he wanted to say or ask. The conversation usually lasted 20-30 minutes easily. We feel very privileged as a family to have known him and to have had the honour of writing for his anthologies and Ajit and I are very thankful to him for enabling us to have an audience with Pope John Paul II.
May he rest in eternal peace and may his memory be a source of inspiration to many in the future!
Charanjit AjitsinghReturn to top