By Edward Pentin
BIRMINGHAM, England, SEPT. 19, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A rainbow appeared over Cofton Park as Pope Benedict arrived this morning for the beatification Mass of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th century English theologian who has had a significant influence on the Holy Father’s own life.
Large numbers of faithful from all over the country and further afield had braved the rain and made their way from the very early hours of the morning to the venue near Birmingham, not far from Cardinal Newman’s resting place in Rednal.
This was a particularly special beatification Mass: not only was it the only such Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI, but it was also the first beatification of an Englishman for centuries.
The Holy Father arrived in the popemobile and, as in Glasgow on Thursday, was driven through a crowd of around 70,000 jubilant pilgrims. On either side of the purpose-built altar were the words ‘Heart Speaks to Heart’, the theme chosen by the Pope for the papal visit, and taken from the crest of Cardinal Newman.
As well as bishops of England, Wales and Scotland, members of the royal family and government figures were also in attendance. So, too, were relatives of Cardinal Newman — descendents of his cousin — and Deacon Jack Sullivan whose miraculous healing of a back problem was last year attributed to Cardinal Newman’s intercession. The ruling led to today’s beatification, ending a cause which has been investigated since 1958.
In his homily, the Holy Father praised the theologian’s spirituality and holiness. He singled out his vision for education that was “firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach” and highlighted Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent and well-instructed laity. But he also reflected on his life as a priest, recalling his “profoundly human vision of priestly ministry” that manifested itself in the oratory he founded, his visits to the sick, his comfort of the bereaved and care for those in prison.
“‘Heart speaks to heart’ gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, as experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God,” the Holy Father said. “He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness.”
The Pope began his homily by recalling that today the country was commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain when, against the odds, the Royal Air Force won a famous air battle against the Nazis.
“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,” Benedict XVI said. “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.”
The right note
Father Richard Duffield, provost of the Birmingham Oratory who also read the Declaration of Beatification during this morning’s Mass, said the beatification was “beautiful” and went “extremely well.” He told ZENIT that the Holy Father’s decision to dwell on the “pastoral and the spiritual” aspects of Blessed John Henry’s life “struck exactly the right note.”
After the Mass, the Holy Father was taken to the Birmingham Oratory where he saw where Cardinal Newman lived and visited the library where he studied. “He saw Newman’s books and papers and we gave the Holy Father one of his rosaries,” said Father Duffield. “He told us that he wished he had more time to spend in the library.”
Pilgrim Irena Sani, originally from Albania and now living in London, told me ahead of the beatification she expected “many fruits” to come from it. He is a “great example” of an Anglican “who knows the Catholic Church and can help other Anglicans return to the Church,” she said. “It’s no coincidence that he converted because he knew the Truth when he saw it, and people who know the Truth can’t do anything else but be received into the Church.” His beatification, she said, is not only important for the United Kingdom but also the world.
The Holy Father then had lunch with the bishops of England, Scotland and Wales at St. Mary’s College, Oscott, before meeting seminarians. In his address to the bishops, given in the room where Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman met bishops of England in 1852 to discuss the restoration of the hierarchy, the Pope issued some forthright words of guidance.
He called on the Church in Britain to be counter-cultural, to present “in its fullness the life-giving message of the Gospel […] including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture.” He encouraged the bishops to “avail” themselves of the new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, which the Pope recently established. He urged British Catholics to show solidarity with those affected by the economic crisis and appealed to the bishops to encourage people to “aspire to higher moral values”.
He praised the way the Church in the country has dealt with cases of clerical sex abuse, and encouraged it to share what has been learned. The Holy Father also reminded them that Christian leaders must live lives of “utmost integrity, humility and holiness.”
Turning to two specific matters related to their episcopal ministry, he urged the bishops to “seize the opportunity” to use the new English translation of the Roman Missal to provide an in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist. He also said “Anglicanorum Coetibus,” the apostolic constitution that allows Anglicans to be received into the Church en masse, is an instrument towards communion.
The Pope’s initiative, which has not always been fully supported by all the hierarchy of England and Wales, “should be seen as a prophetic gesture than can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics,” he said. “It helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all.”
After greeting a large number of seminarians and a short drive to the airport, the Pope said farewell, following a speech by Prime Minister David Cameron.
In his farewell speech, Cameron said it was a “great honor” to have the Pope visit, and the message the Holy Father had brought was “not just for the Church but for everyone of us, of every faith and none.” He also praised the work of Cardinal Newman and his vision for a “broader education for life.”
Cameron said the Pope’s message was “at the heart of the new culture of social responsibility” the new government wants to build in Britain and assured the Pope that faith “has always been and always will be” part of the fabric of British society. The Holy Father’s words have “challenged the whole country to sit up and think” and work for the common good, he said.
“Think of our country as one that not only cherishes faith but is also deeply and quietly compassionate,” Cameron added, and closed by saying he looked forward “to ever closer cooperation” with the Holy See as “we redouble our resolve to work for common good” both at home and abroad.
In his address, Benedict XVI expressed his gratitude for all the organization of the visit, for the opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth II, and to be able to discuss areas of common interest. He said he felt “particularly honored” to be invited to address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall and hoped his visit would confirm and strengthen the “excellent relations” between the Holy See and the United Kingdom on common policy issues.
The very diversity of modern Britain is a challenge, he said, but also offers a “great opportunity” to further intercultural and interreligious dialogue. The Pope closed by saying it was “especially moving” to celebrate the beatification “of a great son of England, Cardinal John Henry Newman.”
“His vast legacy of scholarly and spiritual writings,” he said, “still has much to teach us about Christian living and witness amid the challenges of today’s world, challenges which he foresaw with such remarkable clarity.”
“As I take my leave of you, let me assure you once again of my good wishes and prayers for the peace and prosperity of Great Britain,” the Pope said. “Thank you very much and God bless you all!”