Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

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

Tributes to
Brother Daniel


Br Daniel Faivre SG

Br Daniel lights the lamp - Pilgrimage 2002

Can God
be put into Words?

"Sacred texts and holy words may point us in the right direction but they do not - and cannot - exhaust the radiance of the Mystery which is God. God is always greater than anything our poor words can say."

From: 'Transcendence' (3rd edition) collection published by Daniel Faivre SG page 9.

by Fr Michael Barnes SJ :   >  >   >

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Homily for Brother Daniel Faivre

by Fr. Michael Barnes SJ
Delivered at the funeral on 17th September 2007 at St Anslem's Catholic Church, The Green, Southall

Like all Jesus' stories, the parable of the Good Samaritan is designed to shock, to make people think. It's not just that two people ignore the man who had been attacked on the road and no one looks after him. You have to remember that when Jesus told the story, the one who cared for the injured man was a Samaritan, and Samaritans were despised by the Jews because they were considered not orthodox, not true Jews.

It's as if today Jesus was addressing an audience from the BNP and he talks about a black man as the only one who does the good and honest thing. Or he's talking to the IRA and the Good Samaritan character is an Ian Paisley type of Protestant. We all like to think that 'our people' are right; our enemies are wrong-incapable of doing good. Did Jesus make Jews think? Well, he made a lot of enemies- and paid for it.

But he also began a movement which refused to distinguish between people according to the colour of their skins, or because they spoke in a particular way, or belonged to the right tribe or group. He called disciples - teaching them to see people as he saw them, human beings made in the image of God. Sometimes that is not easy; we struggle. Those of us who try to be Christians live God's life-as we see it in Jesus. We believe that by being united with Jesus we are united with those whom God loves. We believe that love can transform us - make us better human beings; working for a better world.

Later in this service one of Brother Daniel's great friends, Brother Michael, will speak about Daniel. My task is to say something about the Gospel. But any Christian life honestly lived illustrates the Gospel better than many words. True for Daniel more than most. Someone in whom God's transforming love very much at work.

I first met Daniel some 25 years ago. I was teaching religious studies at Heythrop and wanted to contact real faith communities- as opposed to the abstract variety I had read about in books. I saw this advert for a conference about inter-faith relations, to be held here in the parish centre, followed by visits to local places of worship. It was a wonderful day - not least because I met communities of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus here in Southall.

Afterwards, I got talking to the wonderfully eccentric Frenchman who had organised it. I wanted to know what 'inter-faith' was. 'What do you do?' I asked. He looked at me and said: 'I am a nuisance.' Now, like so much of what Daniel used to say, I was not quite sure what he meant. But over the years, as I got to know him and respect for what he stood for, I realised what he was saying.

To be involved in inter-faith relations demands patience and persistence, knocking on doors, tramping on the streets, starting conversation, never taking No for an answer, always looking for ways of shifting people out of their comfortable ruts and challenging them with something new and different. As Jesus challenged the Jews of his day to overcome their prejudice and open themselves to enemies, so today we are asked to see the world with the eyes of Jesus - deeply loved by God. A world in which distinctions - race, colour, religion - are of second import; because we share a common humanity and are loved by God.

I do not doubt for one moment that Br Daniel saw the world with those eyes, and particularly this town of Southall and all peoples and communities he loved so much. He lived here for nearly 30 years; he called Southall a 'holy city'. Not because he thought people pious and observant; Southall is not like that. But because of so many people following the ancient traditions of faith which strengthened and comforted and challenged them. He worked for inter-faith relations throughout London; but his heart was always here, on the scruffy streets of Southall. God is here, on our streets, in our homes, not just in great buildings.

Brother Daniel was above all a man of faith. That's the word I shall always associate with him. Not faith in the narrow sense of 'my' beliefs, what 'my' tradition teaches me. Faith is what God inspires in us - all of us. When it was customary to speak of ethnic minorities and cultural and religious diversity, Brother Daniel talked about people of faith. Whatever our difference, we are held together by faith-conviction that, despite difficulties of seeing a way ahead, our lives do make sense. That's what faith does for us: it leads us on, into and through darkness, convinced that we are led by the hand of God.

None of us who shared events he organised, especially pilgrimages, will forget this 'bombastic Frenchman' - as he called himself. He used to come to the 6.30 mass on a Saturday evening and sit over there. Afterwards he would walk out - more like a parade. If he approved of the sermon he would stroke the beard and say 'good speech'. That didn't always happen. He could be quite critical and demanding. But when he approved - then you knew you had got it right.

I was touched that when I went round Southall with news of his death so many people knew him and expressed their sadness. Our presence today is a testament to the esteem in which he was held. We shall miss him. A man of faith, and vision, a man of courage and imagination, a man who loved deeply and inspired love, a man of hope and wisdom. But above all a man who heard the Gospel and lived it in this place with great humility. Thank you, Daniel for the fond memories you leave, which will never die.

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