The period known as The Troubles featured riots, violent attacks, bombings and retaliation from Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups, as well as involvement from the Royal Ulster Constabulary police, intervention from the British military, and mass internment of civilians.
Hume, taking inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr., sought a peaceful resolution.
He had entered the seminary at Maynooth but did not pursue the Catholic priesthood. He became a French teacher and married his wife Patricia in 1960. He founded Derry's Credit Union and at the age of 26 became national president of the Irish Credit Union Movement, RTE News reports.
Hume became a civil rights leader to help Catholics secure equal rights and housing.
This led him to politics. He was elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland as an independent in 1969, but became a founding member of the SDLP the next year. The parliament was suspended in 1972 because it could not maintain order in The Troubles. Hume would later be elected to the restored Northern Ireland Assembly, then serve in the European Parliament from 1979 to 2004, and the U.K. Parliament from 1983 to 2005.
Benedict XVI in 2012 named him a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great, recognizing "his outstanding services to Catholic social teaching in the area of peace."
In his later years he suffered from dementia and memory problems. He died Aug. 3 after a brief illness at a nursing home in the Northern Ireland city of Derry, also known as Londonderry.
"It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: We shall overcome," said his family in a statement about Hume's death.
Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said Hume was "one of the greatest peacemakers and champions of social justice of our time."
"He dedicated his life to the welfare of this community, at no small cost to himself. His name became a byword for dedication to the cause of peace, whatever the obstacles or criticisms," he continued. "His first- hand experience of injustice and violence and his broad European vision emboldened him to persevere in building bridges and friendships."
Noting Hume's seminary discernment, McKeown said Hume "always retained that strong Christian sense of being called to be a peacemaker."
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Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, who comes from Derry, said he was "hugely influenced" by Hume.
"For me, like many other pupils of Saint Columb's College, John Hume was considered one of our heroes and role models. When I went to study for the priesthood at Maynooth I was happy to know that he too had once been a seminarian for the Diocese of Derry," the bishop said Aug. 3. "But John's vocation was to serve God and his community as a layman, and he totally devoted his energies to that vocation – to relieving poverty, challenging injustice and providing decent living conditions for all."
"Later, as a priest working in Derry, I came to know John as a man whose convictions were rooted in a deep faith, in prayer and practical Christianity," he continued. "John put Catholic Social Teaching into practice – sometimes at great personal cost and risk – working ceaselessly for a process of reconciliation through which the dignity of every human person is recognised and upheld."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood praised Hume, saying: "His life's work brought to an end the seemingly intractable historical arc of bitter conflict between the neighboring islands of Britain and Ireland." In reflecting on Hume's work, he said, "never has the beatitude rung truer - blessed be the peacemakers".
The Republic of Ireland's Taoiseach Micheal Martin said of Hume, "During the darkest days of paramilitary terrorism and sectarian strife, he kept hope alive. And with patience, resilience and unswerving commitment, he triumphed and delivered a victory for peace."
Gerry Adams, former president of the nationalist party Sinn Fein, praised Hume's "courage to take real risks for peace."