LAHORE: Friends and family paid moving tributes to war hero Group Captain (retired) Cecil Chaudhry at his funeral service at the Sacred Heart Cathedral here on Sunday.
“My father would always say that by birth he was a Christian, but his religion was humanity,” said Cecil Chaudhry Junior, speaking about his father. “‘First be a good human being and the rest will work out just fine,’ he would say,” recalled Chaudhry Jr.
He thanked the president and chief minister for their messages of condolence, and the staff at the Combined Military Hospital in Lahore and Rawalpindi for their care and support during his father’s 16-month battle against cancer.
He also thanked Air Marshal Tahir Rafiq Butt and the Pakistan Air Force for the service held earlier in the day at the PAF base in Lahore. “We are grateful to the first family of my father, the Pakistan Air Force,” he said.
Other family members said the decorated war hero would remain an inspiration to them. “I am very proud of my grandfather who fought for Pakistan with great bravery,” said Chaudhry’s young grandson Abdullah.
“He fought like a hero not just in the wars, but also when he was diagnosed with cancer,” Purnima Ghosh, a cousin of Chaudhry’s, told The Tribune.
“He was such an inspiration for his family, of courage and steadfastness,” said Zara Randal, a female relative.
Wing Commander Sameen Jacob called Capt Chaudhry “a gallant war hero” and said that four former air chief marshals had attended his funeral service at the PAF base.
The funeral service, led by Bishop of the Lahore Archdiocese Sebastian Shaw and conducted by Archbishop of Karachi Joseph Coutts and Bishop of Multan Andrew Francis, was attended by some 2,000 people. “Chaudhry was not just the pride of the Christian community, but the pride of the entire nation,” said Bishop Shaw.
Archbishop Coutts said Chaudhry had defended the country as a civilian and a soldier. “Cecil defended the country first militarily and after his retirement by becoming a leading human rights activist,” he said.
A large number of rights activists attended the funeral including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretary General IA Rehman, women’s rights activist Shahtaj Qizilbash and Institute of Peace and Secular Studies Chairwoman Saeeda Diep. Speaking with The Express Tribune, Diep said Chaudhry’s death was an irreparable loss. “I cry because I know there is no one like him to take his message of peace and human rights activism forward,” she said. National Commission for Justice and Peace Executive Director Peter Jacob said Chaudhry’s legacy must be kept alive. “Our people should remember him as a person who stood for the rights of all people,” he said. He also urged the government to name a building after him.
Dr Paul Bhatti, adviser to the prime minister on minorities affairs and chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said the alliance had “lost its father”. He said Chaudhry had dedicated his life to working for “Jinnah’s Pakistan” and for the mainstreaming of minorities in the country. “The APMA will carry forward his legacy by working for the marginalised segments of the society,” he said.
Writer Munnoo Bhai, former finance minister Dr Mubashir Hassan, former provincial education minister Mian Imran Masood and Forman Christian College Rector Dr Peter Armacost also attended the funeral.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2012.