VATICAN CITY, 19 SEP 2010 (VIS) – Benedict XVI left the apostolic nunciature in London this morning and, at 8.30 a.m., boarded a helicopter which took him to Birmingham for the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman.
John Henry Newman, one of the great Christian intellectuals of the nineteenth century, was born in London in 1801. His spiritual quest having begun in adolescence, he later went on to study theology at Oxford University. Subsequently he became an Anglican pastor, a fellow of Oriel College, and leader of the Oxford Movement which studied the Catholic roots of the faith in England. In 1842, while writing his “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine”, he began to mature his conversion to Catholicism. He was admitted into the Catholic Church in 1845 and ordained a Catholic priest in Rome on 1 June 1847. Following his ordination, and with the encouragement of Pope Pius IX, he founded the first Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. In 1852 he was appointed rector of the Catholic University of Dublin, Ireland, a post he held until 1854. Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal in 1879 and he died in 1890 at the Oratory of Edgbaston. The process for his beatification began in 1958. Newman’s miraculous intercession in the cure of dean Jack Sullivan, who suffered a serious complaint of the spinal column, was officially recognised and approved by Benedict XVI in July 2009.
The Pope’s helicopter landed in Birmingham at 9.30 a.m. He then travelled by car to Cofton Park in the city’s Rednal district, very near Cardinal Newman’s tomb. Having travelled round the area by popemobile, greeting the 70,000 people present, the Holy Father listened to a greeting from Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham then celebrated Mass for the beatification of John Henry Newman.
In his homily, before turning his attention to the new blessed, the Pope recalled how “this particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. … Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms.
“Yet there is another, more joyful reason why this is an auspicious day for Great Britain, for the Midlands, for Birmingham”, he added. “It is the day that sees Cardinal John Henry Newman formally raised to the altars and declared blessed”.
“England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognise today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to Him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing. He is worthy to take his place in a long line of saints and scholars from these islands, St. Bede, St. Hilda, St. Aelred, Blessed Duns Scotus, to name but a few”.
“Cardinal Newman’s motto, ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’, or Heart speaks unto heart, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness”.
“Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters, and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, Who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion. Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a ‘definite service’, committed uniquely to every single person”.
“The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing ‘subjects of the day’. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world”.
The Holy Father continued his homily by paying “particular tribute” to Cardinal Newman’s “vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as ‘The Idea of a University’ holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. … On this day, … I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us”.
Finally, Benedict XVI mentioned the “warmth and humanity underlying” the new blessed’s “appreciation of the pastoral ministry. … He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison.
“No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls”.
Following Mass the Pope prayed the Angelus, expressing a special greeting to “the people of Seville, Spain, where, just yesterday, Madre Maria de la Purisima de la Cruz was beatified”. May she, he said, “be an inspiration to young women to follow her example of single-minded love of God and neighbour”.
He continued: “When Blessed John Henry Newman came to live in Birmingham, he gave the name ‘Maryvale’ to his first home here. The Oratory that he founded is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And the Catholic University of Ireland he placed under the patronage of Mary, ‘Sedes Sapientiae’. In so many ways, he lived his priestly ministry in a spirit of filial devotion to the Mother of God”.
At 12.40 the Pope left Cofton Park and travelled by car to the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Birmingham, where the cardinal lived from his conversion until his death on 11 August 1890. There Benedict XVI visited the blessed’s room, which has now been transformed into a museum. He then went on to Birmingham’s Oscott College where he had lunch.