Hello and welcome!
Last Sunday, I had the joy of attending the canonization of five new saints at St. Peter’s Basilica, including St. John Henry Newman.
For those who are not familiar with him, Cardinal Newman was an English academic and theologian born in 1801 who, by the age of 27, had become an Anglican priest teaching at Oxford. He was the vicar of the university church and published a number of important theological works.
While at Oxford, he became one of the key figures of the Oxford Movement among the Anglicans, which was sort of a push to turn the Anglican Church more toward its Catholic roots. Through his studies, he became more and more convinced that the Catholic Church was the true Church established by Christ. So, in 1845 he asked to be admitted to the Catholic Church. He studied in Rome and, in 1847, he was ordained a Catholic priest and joined the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, better known as the Oratorians.
After returning to England he, of course, continued his theological work but also Newman founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London and was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland.
In 1879, Pope Leo XIII named him a cardinal, but he asked to be able to remain at his Birmingham Oratory to continue his work. He died in 1890 and is considered by many to be one of the most important English-speaking theologians of the modern era.
Many Catholic scholars and others who have studied his writings were very anxious to be part of the celebrations, but I think what struck me the most was to see how the Anglican Church and the British government were so much a part of the celebration.
There were many Anglican bishops and clergy at the canonization. Clearly, though he eventually converted to Catholicism, the Anglicans still have a great affection for him and feel as though he made a very important contribution to the Anglican Church as well as the Catholic Church.
Friday evening, before the canonization, there was a reception hosted by the British Embassy to the Holy See, to which I was invited. As I mentioned, there were many Anglican ministers and bishops there along with Newman scholars from all over the world.
I asked someone how long the building had been used by the British Embassy, and I was told that it was originally owned by a Russian princess. It eventually became the German embassy and, during World War II, it was a Nazi headquarters. After the war, it was given to the British government to use as their embassy. Today, it is the residence of the British Ambassador to Italy and is used for many important functions hosted by the British government in Rome.
At the reception, the British Ambassador to the Vatican, Sally Axworthy, spoke very eloquently about Cardinal Newman’s life. Then, the British government’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Rehman Chishti, spoke. His remarks were very interesting to me because he was recently named by the Prime Minister to this post, where he is promoting religious freedom throughout the world. He told us that his father, grandfather and uncles were all imams. He has talked about visiting Muslim countries and telling them that, as a Muslim, he had freedom of religion in Britain and he hoped that their countries would extend the same freedom to Christians in practicing their religion.
We also heard from Cardinal Nichols, who spoke a bit about the life and legacy of Cardinal Newman. It was very funny when, after his talk, he was being interviewed by the press and they asked him, “Your Eminence, what do you think Cardinal Newman would have said about Brexit?” He answered with a quote from the famous poem by Cardinal Newman: “Lead, Kindly Light, amidst the encircling gloom!”
Because it was the Feast of Pope St. John XXIII, we went to pray at his tomb. We prayed for the Archdiocese of Boston and, in a special way, for our seminary that is named in his honor.
After the canonization on Sunday afternoon, there was a reception at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, the university run by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Before his conversion, Cardinal Newman had studied in the Urbaniana, which was the seminary for the mission countries (including the United States before the founding of the Pontifical North American College.)
He spent time talking to everyone, and I was gratified by how friendly he was to the many people he met and that he seemed very sincerely pleased to be a part of the Newman celebration. In fact, the day before the canonization, he penned an article in l’Osservatore Romano on Cardinal Newman.
Next week, we will prepare a final draft of the Synod document to be presented to the Holy Father. I will certainly share more about our activities at the synod with you then.
Until next week,