John Henry Newman was a spiritual ‘giant’ and ‘a very important figure,’ according to the British ambassador to the Holy See.
Sally Axworthy was speaking ahead of Newman’s canonisation in Rome on 13 October.
“Cardinal Newman was really a very important figure. He was a giant of the 19th century,” she said.
She spoke of his influence on Catholic spirituality, “particularly with his ideas on the development of doctrine, which I understand opened the way to Vatican II, and also his ideas about conscience, about conscience being the voice of God in every one of us.”
Banners of Newman and four other saints to be canonised have been unfurled at the Vatican in the build up to Sunday’s canonisation.
The unfurling marked the beginning of exhibits, conferences, prayer vigils and other celebrations focused on the new saints from, England, Brazil, India, Italy and Switzerland.
Sally Axworthy said the canonisation was causing a lot of excitement in England. Prince Charles is planning to travel to the Vatican for the Mass.
She led the inauguration of an exhibit about the four visits Blessed Newman made to Rome: first as an Anglican, then as a Catholic seminarian, later as founder of the first communities in England of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, and finally, when he was made a cardinal in 1879.
Newman’s links with Rome have remained strong. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both spoke of Newman’s influence on their life and thought.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II wrote to Vincent Nichols, who was then Archbishop of Birmingham, on the second centenary of his birth.
He commended Newman as ‘one of the most distinguished and versatile champions of English spirituality.’
In 2010, at Cardinal Newman’s beatification Mass in Birmingham, Pope Benedict XVI paid special tribute to Blessed Newman’s vision of education, which combined intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment.
He quoted the theologian’s appeal for a well-instructed laity and said it should serve as a goal for catechists today: “I want a laity not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it.”
As well as Blessed Newman, the following four ‘blesseds’ will also be canonised on 13 October:
-Blessed Marguerite Bays was a laywoman from Switzerland known for her service to the poor, her simplicity of life and her devoted faith in the face of great physical suffering. St. Bays also was known as a mystic and for bearing the stigmata of Christ. She died in 1879 at the age of 63.
-Blessed Josephine Vannini was an Italian who co-founded the Daughters of St. Camillus. She added a fourth vow to the usual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. This extra vow was to serve the sick, even if this meant risking death.
-Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, the Indian founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family, a religious order dedicated to helping couples and families and serving the poor, the sick and the dying. Born in 1876 to a well-off farming family, she insisted on living a life of austerity and slept on a gravel floor instead of a bed.
-Blessed Maria Rita Lopes Pontes, popularly known as Sister Dulce. Born in 1914, she was a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and founded the first Catholic workers’ organisation in the state of Bahia. She started a health clinic for poor workers and opened a school for working families. She created a hospital, an orphanage and care centres for the elderly and disabled and became known as “the mother of the poor.”
Picture: A banner of Blessed John Henry Newman hangs on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 10 October 2019. He is among five people to be canonised by Pope Francis on 13 October. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)