A PRIEST in Oxfordshire, the Revd Dr Hugh White, who is developing a pilgrim path in John Henry Newman’s footsteps, hopes that the walk will become an instrument of prayer for Christian unity. Mirroring the journey undertaken in life by Newman, the nine-day trail wends its way around Oxfordshire, and then heads north to Birmingham.
Dr White, as a former vicar of Deddington, said that he felt a personal link to Newman: “He gave his first sermon in Over Worton, and his first public address in Deddington, both near Banbury; so these two places seem important. Apparently, Newman once walked up, in the night, from Oxford to Over Worton. The then Bishop of Oxford preached at evensong in Over Worton on the inaugural walk in 2013, using extracts from Newman’s first sermon.”
Dr White went on: “I am now working on the Deddington to Birmingham stretch. This will take in Baddesley Clinton, which Newman visited regularly, eventually reaching Oratory House, Rednal, and culminating in the Birmingham Oratory.”
He believes that Newman’s “career” provokes meditation on Christian unity: “Newman was a highly divisive figure in the 19th century, and his path to Rome was painful for him and for others. His canonisation, however, should promote both a recognition of his value for the whole church of Christ, and give an impetus to ecumenical endeavour.”
Newman’s successor at St Mary and St Nicholas, Littlemore, the Revd Margreet Armitstead, is in the middle of a building project to create a community space, the Newman Meeting Place: “Newman had a pastoral heart for Littlemore. We hope the deepened interest in him will help us raise further funds so that we can support the people of this area better, one of the most deprived parts of Oxford.”
A local historian will be on hand in the church this weekend to greet the growing number of curious pilgrims, while Ms Armitstead joins the celebrations in Rome. “When the founder of your church becomes a saint, you start looking at your own faith through the lens of that person,” she said. “What I find particularly inspirational is Newman’s willingness to not shy away from inner wrestling, and for always carving out a lot of time in his busy life for prayer and reflection.