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In Rome, St John Henry Newman should be a Doctor of the Church, archbishop tells conference

14 October 2019

Anglicans out in strength for canonisation of John Henry Newman


The official Anglican delegation at the canonisation mass had its own seating area near the papal throne

The official Anglican delegation at the canonisation mass had its own seating area near the papal throne

THOUSANDS of pilgrims and ecumenical and national representatives travelled from the UK to the Vatican for the canonisation of John Henry Newman, one of the founders of the Church of England’s Oxford Movement, on Sunday.

They included a large Anglican delegation. The Prince of Wales represented the Queen.

When the Pope read the decree of canonisation during the mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday morning, Newman became the first canonised English saint since 1970, and the first non-martyr for more than 600 years, since St John of Bridlington was canonised by Pope Boniface IX in 1401.

The recognition given to Newman was welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a gift to the entire Christian Church. “His legacy is far broader than one Church or two Churches,” he said in a short video. “It is a global legacy, a legacy of hope and truth, of the search for God, of devotion to being part of the People of God.

“For the Church of England, Newman, along with others . . . started the Oxford Movement, which has had a fundamental, lasting, beneficial, and important influence on Anglicanism.”

Newman was born in London in 1801, and recognised a desire to be a “minister of Christ” from an early age. He was ordained priest in Christ Church Cathedral by the Bishop of Oxford, and was curate of St Clement’s, in the city.

In the 1830s, he and his associates, known as the Tractarians because of their series of Tracts for the Times, sought to renew the Church of England by helping it to return to its origins: efforts that became known as the Oxford Movement.

In 1845, however, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church by an Italian Passionist missionary, Fr Dominic Barberi.

Newman later established the Birmingham Oratory, and was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, but not a bishop. He died at the age of 89.

His theology and teachings, particularly on conscience, continue to excite debate. At a symposium at the Angelicum University, in Rome, on Saturday, the RC Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Revd Anthony Fisher, said that he believed that Newman should be named as a “Doctor of the Church” — an accolade reserved for teachers regarded as of universal significance — and, specifically, “Doctor of Conscience”.

Others admire Newman for his “ecumenical friendship”, embodied by his continuing love for the Church of England and its members long after he had departed.

Among them is the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, a co-chair of ARCIC, who told the Rome symposium that Newman continued to be an “extraordinary” source of friendship between Anglicans and RCs.

Ecumenical dialogue, he said, “has actually developed itself through the progress of the canonisation. . . It is wonderful that here we are together with Anglicans who recognise the value of the development of his own life, and of his sense of faithfulness to Christ’s calling and his sense of calling to the Church.”

MAZUR/CBCEW.ORG.UKPope Francis greets the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Most Revd Ian Ernest 

Earlier this year, Pope Francis signed the documents recognising the second miracle necessary for Newman’s canonisation: the inexplicable healing, five years ago, of Melissa Villalobos, of Chicago, from a haemorrhage that threatened to kill both her and her unborn child. When asked Newman for his prayers to make the bleeding stop, the flow halted instantly, and she made a full recovery.

Mrs Villalobos attended the canonisation with her family, including Gemma, the daughter who survived the haemorrhage.

During the canonisation, the delegation of Anglican bishops was given its own section of St Peter’s Square, close to the papal throne.

On emerging from St Peter’s Basilica, the Pope stopped to greet the bishops, and spoke warmly with the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Most Revd Ian Ernest.

The Pope canonised four women: Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, from Brazil; Marguerite Bays, from Switzerland; Sister Josephine Vannini, from Italy; and Sister Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, from India.

In his homily, he noted Newman’s personal holiness, and prayed that Christians be “kindly lights amid the encircling gloom”: a reference to Newman’s famous hymn written in 1833, “Lead, kindly Light”.

On the eve of the canonisation, Prince Charles wrote an article that appeared in The Times and L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, in which he said that Christians still had much to learn from Newman. In particular, he noted Newman’s openness to difference, which, he said, was proved by his life and his theology.

Prince Charles also recognised the value of Newman’s teachings on conscience. “Those who seek the divine in what can seem like an increasingly hostile intellectual environment find in him a powerful ally who championed the individual conscience against an overwhelming relativism,” he said.

At a vigil of prayer in the Basilica of St Mary Major, Rome, the Anglican Communion was represented by the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, who read one of ten prayers of intercession.

The Vicar of St Luke’s, Woodside, the Revd Sam Dennis, among a number of clergy from the diocese of Southwark present in Rome, described watching the canonisation during the mass as “very simple, but very powerful”. Having studied Newman’s writings at university, he highlighted as particularly important “the idea of the authentic development of doctrine over time, and the way in which there can be change in the life of the Church, while being rooted in our traditions”.

A Team Vicar from Barnes, the Revd Stephen Stavrou, was struck by “the real ecumenical warmth towards us as Anglicans”. For him, as a Catholic Anglican, an honour done to Newman “felt like an honour done to all those that are part of that tradition of the Church”. He was personally drawn to “the theme of his search for truth, wherever that might have taken him”.

The Vicar of All Saints, Tooting, the Revd Mae Christie, said she had been very moved to be part of “this vast sea of Christians, gathering there together, drawn by their faith, in celebration of these particular people, from all over the world”. Newman’s pursuit of truth had caused her to reflect that “it is very easy to go along with the pack, but not always the right thing”.

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