Today’s canonisation of Cardinal John Henry Newman has been hailed by Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See as an important moment in the UK’s relationship with the Vatican that can bring the two states closer together.
Ambassador Sally Axworthy described Cardinal Newman as a “giant” of the 19th century whose poetry, sermons and books went beyond a religious audience.
The Prince of Wales leads the UK’s representation at the ceremony in Rome today, where Pope Francis will declare the cardinal a saint in front of tens of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, the first English saint of the modern age.
Ms Axworthy, who is Britain’s top diplomat to the Holy See, said: “It’s an important moment for the Catholic Church but also Holy See relations.
“It’s the first British saint canonised in over 40 years and the first post-Reformation saint, and I think Cardinal Newman is important as he’s someone who had a global impact.
“I know he has a strong following in the United States, Latin America and in the Vatican; lots of people have talked to me about how they’ve been moved by Newman’s writings.
“Obviously he had a huge impact on theology, but he was someone who examined his own faith in enormous detail and that meant also asking some difficult questions about faith in a world which was becoming secularised.”
London-born Cardinal Newman, who died in England in 1890 aged 89, had been hailed by former Pope Benedict XVI as a model for ecumenism.
An Anglican priest, he renounced an illustrious academic career at Oxford University to convert to Catholicism in 1845, convinced that the truth he sought could no longer be found in the Church of England.
The cardinal went on to found the Oratory at Birmingham in 1848 and through his writings spoke to many about the issues of faith, education and conscience.
In February, Pope Francis approved the second miracle attributed to the cardinal, nine years after his predecessor, Pope Benedict, had beatified the 19th century figure during a visit to Britain.
Meanwhile, the Vatican is preparing to receive a delegation of 13 MPs and peers from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See who are visiting Rome for the canonisation.
The group’s leader, Sir Edward leigh MP, said that “one of England’s great intellects being declared a saint is beyond a once-in-a-lifetime event.
“We’re deeply honoured that Her Majesty the Queen is sending the Prince of Wales to represent her and the UK,” Sir Edward continued. “It’s a good sign of the esteem in which Cardinal Newman is held nearly a 130 years after his death.”
MPs and Peers will also meet with Vatican officials to discuss their work.
“The UK and the Holy See have hugely overlapping interests,” Sir Edward said, “and we will keep fellow parliamentarians informed on Church work in areas such as migrants and the protection of children.”
Picture: Cardinal/St John Henry Newman.