Address by Pierre Gerlier, Cardinal Archbishop of Lyons at the Funeral of the Abbé Paul Couturier, 27 March 1953, the Church of St Bruno des Chartreux
At the close of the ceremony the Cardinal ascended the pulpit. He made it clear that he was aware of departing from the custom of the diocese by which no word is spoken at the funeral of a priest.
If I make an exception, and it will be, as you may guess, a brief one, it is not in order to place the Abbé Couturier above his colleagues, for he would have been the first to protest against such treatment. It is because of the nature of the apostolate to which he dedicated his whole life, the greatness of the cause which he served with his whole soul. The presence in this congregation of many of our separated brethren would suffice to bring this out. It is not only as a friend, a devoted friend, that I speak, but above all, as Archbishop of Lyons, that I wish to offer to the departed the sorrowful homage of my admiration, my affection and my thanks.
Abbé Paul Couturier was the apostle of unity – the undaunted worker for the unity of all Christian people.
Union, unity, the consolidation of the human community – this is the great aspiration of the world today, and it is found at all poles of thought. Nowhere is it felt more intensely than in the sphere of religion. There is no sterner commandment in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose prayer it was that they may all be one. It is the great scandal of the world that Christians are divided. All those who love Jesus Christ, those also who for love of Jesus Christi love their brethren, are homesick for the unity of Christians such as our Saviour wished.
There is no question here of a sentimental unity realized in equivocation, but the only unity which could be true – unity realized in candour, loyalty and truth….It was to this task that dear Père Couturier dedicated his life, with a devotion, a fervour, a charity that were truly wonderful. Of course, I do not forget all that he has done (as a teacher) in this Maison des Chartreux, which was very dear to him; nevertheless the great work of his life was, as I have said, his apostolate for unity. He pursued it with an ardent generosity which sometimes gave rise to certain anxieties in those who had the deepest concern for the doctrinal aspects of the problem, but these same people have always been unsparing in their profound admiration and grateful affection for him.
Abbé Couturier has greatly honoured this diocese. He has been a magnificent servant of the Church. The Church, with my humble voice, thanks him.
May we treasure his spirit; may we always follow the example of his radiant goodness, to which there are innumerable witnesses, and which gained an influence, full of sweetness and authority, over so many souls. Many of these are not within the fold of the Catholic Church, yet they tell us with overwhelming force that he was their light and their guide.
We shall never be able to forget what he has done for the unity of Christians. Our Holy Father recently told me how much he has the unity of Christians at heart, and that it should be the object of our ardent prayer to him who alone is able to grant that it comes to realization as he wills.
He whom we mourn was a precursor, an example. His work will be continued in the same spirit.
I sorrowfully salute the sister of the deceased who was the companion and support of his life, and whose anguish at this ceremony can today be enlightened by so great a hope. Amen.
A few minutes later, at the sanctuary steps, Pastor Roland de Pury, speaking in the name of the religious communities of Taizé and Grandchamp, as well as of the Abbé’s Protestant friends in general, paid tribute to the memory of ‘a great brother’:
He leaves us the example of tireless patience and charity, resolute in the pursuit of that end at once so clear and so mysterious: the unity of all those who have for their only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.