The campaign to canonise a famous Suffolk humanitarian and philanthropist as a saint was launched in his home village of Cavendish.
A memorial requiem mass took place in the Church of St Mary the Virgin on Thursday to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Leonard Cheshire, a decorated pilot in the Second World War and a prominent charity figure.
Attended by his children, Jeromy and Elizabeth, and the Bishop of East Anglia, the Rev Alan Hopes, the mass marked the launch of the Cause of Leonard, a long-term endeavour by the Diocese of East Anglia to collect evidence of sainthood from among people of faith.
Lord Cheshire, who died in 1992, received the Victoria Cross for his role during the war, but he is best known for his work creating hundreds of homes around the world in aid of disabled and vulnerable people, with much of it being done alongside his wife, Lady Sue Ryder.
Father Barry Clifford, who knew the couple well from his time as their parish priest at Clare Priory, near Cavendish, said he had thought Lord Cheshire should be canonised ever since his memorial service at Westminster Cathedral 25 years ago.
“Leonard was certainly a very holy man, a great man,” he said.
“I have always believed that and a lot of people did. The great quest and commitment of his life was for peace.”
After the mass, Elizabeth Cheshire, Lord Cheshire’s daughter, said her father would have been “very surprised and humbled” at the canonisation process.
“It was a lovely and really moving mass and a very nice and personal homily from a priest who knew dad in his last few years,” she said.
“He was a really good man and was always motivated by a desire to do what was right and do the things that needed to be done.”
Prayer cards are now being issued, which invite people to pray to Leonard for a particular reason.
Father James Fyfe, who is helping to promote the Cause of Leonard, said: “This does not mean that we already think he is a saint –that part is a very long way off and it may be 50 or 100 years hence. It is a discovery process.
“Bishop Alan and the diocese are embarking on the process because Leonard lived in Cavendish. But he is a world-wide figure and many people will be praying for the success of the cause and we shall reach out to them.
“However, we shall begin in East Anglia first because there are people here who knew him and remember him and who may have something to tell us.”
Anyone who is interested in the cause, or who would like a prayer card, is encouraged to contact James Fyfe by writing to 69 Queen’s Road, Wisbech, PE13 2PH.