Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Tributes to
Brother Daniel

Founder-Director
Br Daniel Faivre SG
1929-2007

Br Daniel at pilgrimage '99

Tony McCaffry's memories   >  >  >

Brother Daniel Faivre S.G.

I cannot remember when or where I first met Daniel. It must have been twenty and more years ago. The fact is, the numbers are not that important. What matters to me is that I grew into friendship with a person who became an important part of my life, who enriched it by his very humanity and by the spirituality which never lost touch with that humanity. He gave me a tremendous amount, in myriad ways: I am sustained by the many reminders of his character, work and life which make me smile even in sadness. I am proud to be a beneficiary of his interfaith legacy.

We eased into our friendship. We found we shared common interests: we were both teachers; we both relished language and could share each other's; we had trained, in different times and in different ways, as missionaries; we both felt ourselves to be somewhat critical friends of the Church tradition in which we had been raised and which we both served. We could acknowledge each other's vulnerabilities without making it a big issue: Daniel was a sensitive soul, despite the sometimes bluff exterior. He could be hurt, but he was big enough that he could also be healed. Looking back, I can perhaps see more clearly now why he became a Brother of St. Gabriel: their specialist work was with young people with hearing or speech disabilities and the principal patron of the work was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Was this the start of his capacity to 'listen with all the senses', as he encouraged us all to do? And his appreciation of the special giftedness of women which was the focus for his final publishing project?

Daniel was a generous friend. His time and his energy, his experience and his wisdom were available to those in need. He was a great person to bounce ideas off: he was not always in favour, but he invariably made you examine your own thinking more closely. If he did in fact like your idea, he would be sure you knew - and you would walk away six feet off the ground!

Daniel would become irritated if I referred to him as 'my guru' - but he was indeed that, someone who opened up the mystery of 'God' and encouraged deeper and more personal relationship with that Infinite Being. He made me think outside the box of my upbringing, without ever denigrating what that had given me. For him, the person of faith is a particular sort of person, whereas the person of religion does certain things. Religion is important, but faith more so. The important starting point, for Daniel, was not what particular faith tradition someone belonged to, but rather whether they had a faith of whatever sort. For him, the mystery of the 'God' (a word which worried him because it seemed to close doors for people as much as open them) was rich and beautiful enough to be accessed in as many ways as there are people. Traditions build up wisdom, but the individual also has insights on the experience of relationship with the divine. In a recent interview for the magazine RE Today, Daniel put it this way: "Interfaith dialogue is about relationship - your relationship with the divine, others' relationship with the divine and then your relationship with each other." He applied the same principle to his own relationship with and from his own tradition of Roman Catholic Christianity, so seeing every person, of whatever time or place, as a unique manifestation of the godhead, redeemed by Christ. (As a trained science teacher, he wittily turned this into a 'secret' formula: umg rbc!)

As a schoolteacher myself, and then an educator of adults, and then a trainer of teachers, I used Daniel and his adopted 'holy city', Southall, to help many hundreds of students to appreciate something of his vision of pluralism and multiculture. He knew his town and his town knew him. To the end, while failing health allowed, he would go out for a walk every day, determined to learn something new to bring back home and to mull over. His home was a terraced house in a cul-de-sac, with loved and loving neighbours: it looked ordinary but certainly was not! His living room/dining room was lined with books and pictures and artefacts which showed the extent of his study of interfaith matters and the richness of his worldwide network of interfaith contacts. This room was the hub of his publishing empire! Pride of place was given to his little brown settee: "Mon ami, many famous bottoms have sat on that settee!"And he was right.

The little kitchen was available to all - and the scene of many a gastronomic triumph! Daniel took British nationality, but never lost his Frenchness, particularly in his regard for good food and wine - and great sporting occasions!

His 'office' was a riot of books, papers and machinery, depending on the phase of development of the latest work project. The conservatory and little garden were a joy and better than any medicine for him: flowers, both wild and cultivated, fruit and vegetables lifted his spirits when times were fraught (for interfaith work comes at a price). He adopted my dear wife, Nina, as his unofficial horticultural adviser (as also my son Philip as his computer consultant). It is a great solace now to have so many 'Daniel plants' in our house and garden, testimony to the largesse of this great man of the soil! (It is not common knowledge that Daniel had, at one time, the only vineyard in Southall, which produced several bottles of white wine of disputed quality!)

But the room that was most eloquent about the man was Daniel's prayer room. This was an uncluttered space, dominated by huge colour photographs of the wonderful wildness of the mountains of the west of Ireland which he loved so much. Wrapped in beautiful fabric, the holy books of the world's religions were given pride of place and equal honour. A dish of stones, brought back from many holy places by Daniel's friends, paid their own silent witness. A cushion on the floor was where the great man came to pray. Letters and messages - often requests for prayers - were given a place of prominence, both to remind the one who prayed - and the One who received the prayer! It was not all joy in there: cereal grasses picked at Belsen reminded Daniel of the evil that can corrupt: his own memories of war were not happy ones: this lovely quiet room was sometimes where demons were wrestled as well as angels entertained.

It was my privilege to be a close collaborator of Daniel in his publishing work. It started with editing the Westminster Interfaith Newsletter, very much not the smart version today's fine team produces! This was a scissors and glue job, before computers came to our aid! One special edition each year coincided with the Pilgrimage and became its handbook. Daniel did all the work: my job was to give it all the once-over and sort out any glitches (we spoke in shorthand, a mixture of two languages at once, 'Frenglish' perhaps?). Daniel's annual Christmas message became a little collection of texts which the recipients cherished and certainly did not throw away. That is, I think, how Daniel came to be a publisher of collections of texts: he recognised the popularity and importance of such an introductory route into the richness of the religious traditions: he could reach more people with his message of and plea for interfaith understanding.

He was not afraid of the amount of work involved, the personal study and the seemingly interminable wrangles to obtain permission from people and institutions to use texts without infringing copyright. We devised a collaborative system to suit our lifestyle: Daniel would write a few pages, mail them through, then I would add comments and suggested amendments: as my comments went back to him, so his next batch of pages were on their way. We sometimes needed a couple of goes before we reached a result with which we were both happy. It was always fascinating - and fun!

Well supported by his Brothers, Daniel pushed onwards towards interfaith understanding, breaking new ground, sowing seeds he hoped would germinate into healthy plants that would blossom beautifully and productively. What he had, I think, was vision: he saw things in a way we lesser mortals hungered for but never quite managed. There were three editions of "Transcendence", three attempts to grasp the central mystery of the 'bigger-than-all-of-us'. Be open to the wonder of it all, Daniel seemed to be saying: don't claim a monopoly but rather see the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary: challenge any belittling small-mindedness for the nonsense it is. Be true to yourself, don't try to be what you are not. Allow others to be themselves too and enjoy the richness of their very diversity. Think with your heart as well as your head. Find God in all things and all people and all circumstances and all situations. Never be complacent: press on; we don't know the half of it yet!

He will know more about it now. He will smile and be glad for the love of his friends as they try to stay true to his way - but bold enough to press on beyond the point he reached. He now glories in the Transcendent: we still squint at the brightness of the vision. Thank you, dear friend. Adieu!

Tony McCaffry

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