Newman's Papal Influence; Jesuit Agency's Milestone

New Book Focuses on British Cardinal

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, OCT. 27, 2005 ( He is a figure whose work and persona have inspired innumerable pursuits of truth, and now he might have a greater impact still.

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) has inspired a wealth of studies, publications and organizations — and even influenced our current Pope, according to a new book represented at the English College last week.

«Benedict XVI and Cardinal Newman» was presented to an audience of Curia members, journalists and pontifical university students during an upright English, yet relaxed Roman affair.

The glossy book is filled with select writings from both Church figures and other leading English clergy, and is edited by longtime religious commentator Peter Jennings.

Produced in only six months (from the time of the papal election), Jennings’ book clearly presents Benedict XVI’s keen interest in this convert from Anglicanism which dates back to his seminary days.

Declared venerable in 1991 for heroic virtues, the cardinal’s effect on the current Holy Father is recognized throughout the writings in the new book.

These include introductory addresses given by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the symposium «John Henry Newman, Lover of Truth,» to his address on conscience and truth, presented at a bishops workshop in Texas.

Jennings told me how he tried to enhance the in-depth chronology of Newman’s life by using previously unpublished pictures like that of Newman in his role as founder of the English Oratory of St. Philip Neri, from the archives of the Birmingham Oratory.

«Having been baptized in the Oratory and now being the press secretary for the archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, I’ve had the great fortune of working more directly with the Oratory Fathers and thus, the postulator for the cause» of canonization, Jennings said.

The postulator is the provost of the Birmingham Oratory, Father Paul Chavasse. He told me he thinks the book will encourage a resurgence in Newman’s popularity.

«In the passing years there has been a steady, increasing devotion to the cardinal on a world scale,» Father Chavasse said, «but it was enormously encouraging for us to see the interest that was expressed by all attending the reception. Each expressed a desire for the cause to reach a happy conclusion as soon as it’s practical.»

That conclusion might be close at hand, he added.

«At the moment, we’re investigating a possible miraculous cure through the intercession of Cardinal Newman in the Archdiocese of Boston,» the priest said. «It was the healing of a 60-year-old permanent deacon who had suffered from a severe degenerative spinal disease which was threatening his mobility.

«Although there had been an operation, the surgeons were not at all convinced that he would be restored to health but, in fact, that’s just what happened, he got out of bed and … I read the medical reports in which one of the principal surgeons says: ‘If you want an explanation for what has happened to you, I suggest you ask God.'»

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Refugee Service Turns 25

The Jesuit Refugee Service is celebrating 25 years in its mission of accompanying, serving and advocating for the rights of refugees.

And to mark its quarter-century milestone, the JRS has launched two books to share its experiences.

At a press conference last Friday, the director of JRS International, Jesuit Father Lluís Magriñá, told why the number and scope of the agency’s services have increased over the years: «We have grown as the needs of the people have grown.»

The original call for refugee services came in 1980, by Father Pedro Arrupe, the then father general of the Society of Jesus. It was in response to the plight of Vietnamese boat people. Since then, the JRS’ work evolved as geopolitical situations varied and the very nature of what it means to be a refugee changed.

«Back then,» said Father Magriñá, «it was Asia who had the bigger number of refugees and now it’s Africa.»

Between 1994 and 2004, he said, the number of people moving around the world in search of work or freedom has gone from 40 million to more than 250 million.

«It has multiplied by 5 in 10 years and this trend seems as if it will continue,» the priest said.

Father Magriñá added that, in the last five years or so, «internally displaced people» have begun to outnumber refugees. And there is an increase in the number of those without any national identity whatsoever, the so-called stateless people.

The JRS works in more than 50 countries and employs more than 1,000 staffers. Its food, education, financial and legal services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

In examining its 25 years, the JRS decided to publish some of its stories and its secret ingredient for success: seeing the face of Christ in everyone.

Jesuit Father Pablo Alonso, one of the primary editors of the books, told me of the JRS’ role in re-establishing the dignity and beauty of these often desperate brothers and sisters of ours.

«JRS has been reflecting for the last 25 years on the spirituality or spiritual values that we could share with the rest of the world, after having received them from refugees,» he said. «So this book comes as a tool to help unveil these persons of God in refugee camps that sometimes is so difficult to unveil.»

One book, «God in Exile: Towards a Shared Spirituality with Refugees,» identifies the faith experience within such circumstances.

«Our 30 contributions in this book from women and men refugees, lay workers, religious and priests, from the 10 regions in which JRS is present in the five continents, really make it clear that God is present in the worst of situations,» explained Father Alonso, «because as we read in the Gospels, Jesus himself was a refugee when as a child he was taken into Egypt by his parents and has identified himself with everybody who is suffering or in pain, who is in prison, who is hungry or who is a migrant.»

Father Alonso says that he has learned more from the refugees than they have from him. «Refugees helped me to deepen my faith and learn human values like hospitality and commitment and service to community, but the main benefit I gained from them was hope,» he said.

The director of the JRS in the United Kingdom, Louise Zanre, says the bigger obstacle the agency faces is the stigma attached to refugees themselves.

«Our work is becoming more difficult because I think people are less willing to listen,» said Zanre.

She says that public opinion is often confused and bombarded by false information about refugees.

«After mistakenly hearing how ‘these illegals take our jobs,’ people get scared,» Zanre added, «so […] it’s interesting to witness the ‘life changing’ every time we introduce an asylum seeker to a public citizen.»

Zanre says the faith-based element to the JRS, encouraging the recognition of the worth of people, is vital in coordinating a more responsive refugee service. She and her colleagues are calling on governments to promote a similar response.

«We need to bring back a sense of compassion and justice to the way that immigration and asylum matters are regulated in the West,» she said, «because that’s the only way, ultimately, that situations can improve for all of our refugee friends.»

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An Envoy Arrives

Without yet having presented his credentials to the Pope, the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See is already sparking much attention in Rome.

Upon his 6:45 a.m. arrival last Sunday at Fiumicino Airport, Francis Rooney met with a throng of media.

To them, this ambassador-designate expressed his «great pleasure» and sense of honor to be in his new role. He succeeds Jim Nicholson, who was named to another post back in Washington, D.C.

«As I told President B
ush before leaving,» he said, «I will do all within my power to see that our relationship with the Holy See is enhanced and enriched.»

Previously, Rooney was the chief executive officer of Rooney Holdings Incorporated, an investment and holding company based in Naples, Florida, with administrative offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

He views this new undertaking as important because, he says, «at the core of the diplomatic relationship between the United States and the Holy See lies a common vision and task — to promote and defend the dignity of every man, woman and child.»

Rooney, who will be the seventh U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, reflected on the states’ «21-year strong diplomatic relationship [which] has done much to spread freedom, democracy and human rights around the globe.»

But, he noted, «there is still much to be done to make our world a better place.»

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Catherine Smibert can be reached at

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