The former British diplomat, anticolonialist and 1916 martyr Sir Roger Casement was remembered at a commemorative Mass in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral on Monday.
Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3 August 1916 after he was convicted of treason following his attempts to secure German military aid in the push for Irish independence. Considered to be “the father of 20th century human rights investigations”, he shed light on the abuse suffered by natives in places such as the Belgian Congo and Peru.
The special mass, which coincided in the week of the 100th anniversary of his execution, was concelebrated by Fr Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Chaplaincy and Fr Stephen Coker, the Catholic Chaplain of Pentonville Prison. Also participating in the Mass were members of the family of Roger Casement, and the Congolese Chaplaincy.
Esteemed guests included the Ambassador of Peru, the High Commissioner of Mozambique, and members of LGBT Catholics Westminster. At a post-Mass event at the Embassy of Ireland, Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall said that although Casement took no part in the actual Easter Rising, he was and remains one of the best known individuals connected with it. He described the Dublin-born man as a “truly international figure” and said that it was important to remember not only what he had done for Ireland, but also what he had achieved the world over.
“In Ireland we have naturally tended to focus on the final phase of Casement’s life. Those were the years when he threw himself wholeheartedly into our national struggle,” Mr Mulhall explained.
“Roger Casement’s greatest achievement lay not in helping pave the way for the Easter Rising, but in his courageous stand in defence of oppressed peoples in Africa and Latin America. He added that Casement was a particularly inspirational character, given that his defence of those who were suffering was considered unorthodox at the time.
“When he arrived in Africa in the late-19th century, European Imperialism was at the height of its pomp and prestige.
“It was based on an assumption that privileged European nations had a right, even a duty, to preside over the lives of allegedly less well-equipped peoples.
“But his experience of the realities of the Congo caused him to develop a deepening sympathy with the plight of the native population, abused and exploited as it was by a ruthless system designed, as we now know, for the personal enrichment of the Belgian King, Leopold.”
The Ambassador signed off with a poignant tribute to Casement, whereby he described him as an embodiment of those who continue to champion the cause of the exploited in these modern times.
“In today’s world, replete with conflict, inequality and injustice, it seems to me that his courage in standing up for oppressed peoples deserves our continued respect and admiration,” he said.