Birmingham (AsiaNews) - Catholic lay people, especially teachers, "who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it”. With these words of John Henry Newman, repeated today by Benedict XVI, the pope condemned the emergency in education, on the day of the beatification of the man who was a scholar, writer, poet, priest and cardinal, considered one of the promoters of ecumenism, a forerunner of Second Vatican Council, the role of the laity in the Church and the synthesis between faith and reason. He who affirmed the primacy of conscience as "the original Vicar of Christ", who led to his being defined by the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, "the man of the conscience".
A large crowd, over 70 thousand people, in Birmingham, the last leg of the Pope's trip to Britain, an echo of that gathering- estimated at almost 200 thousand people - at last night’s in Hyde Park prayer vigil and on the streets London to greet Benedict XVI. A number that shocked and rejected the notion of British "indifference" towards Benedict XVI. Moreover the planned protests - centred on the issues of gay people, paedophilia and contraception – were quite marginal, with the participation of only a few thousand people and yet despite this given great media coverage.
But today there are no protesters, in what is the most important day of the trip - the motto of Cardinal Newman, Cor Ad Cor loquitur, "the heart speaks unto heart", chosen for the entire papal visit - the beatification of "of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing”.
The new Blessed John Henry Newman was born in London in 1801 in an Anglican family. In 1817 he entered Trinity College, Oxford and, after a period of study, became a deacon of the Anglican Church in 1824. In 1828 he became pastor of the church of St. Mary's University. During this period, he continued studies in theology and philosophy and was the principal founder of the Oxford Movement, whose main purpose was to counter that component of Anglicanism, in favour of the Enlightenment and rationalist positions.
In 1832, during a trip to Italy, he became very ill and began a profound reflection on his religious beliefs. From 1833 to 1841 Newman and other friends of the movement published the so-called "Tracts for the Times", 90 essays on the situation of the Anglican Church, but also several questions about Christian religion in general. In the last of these essays, "Tract 90, Newman proposed an interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles of religion that accords with the doctrine of the Catholic Council of Trent: it cost him a conviction from the University of Oxford and 42 Anglican bishops.
This prompted him to give up his university office of pastor and in 1842 he retired to Littlemore, where he began to write his great work on the development of Christian doctrine. In this study the origins of Christianity, which was released in 1845, he came to the conclusion that "the Catholic Church was formally in the right." On 9 October of that year he was received into the Catholic Church.
He left Oxford and settled in Birmingham. After a period of reflection, he decided to enter the Oratory of St. Philip Neri and was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome in 1847. He went on to found the first Oratory of St. Philip in England in Edgbaston, Birmingham,. Promoter and first rector of Catholic University in Dublin in 1851, he returned to England in 1858 to devote himself to studies and pastoral activity. In 1879, Pope Leo XIII created him cardinal. He died in 1890 in the Oratory in Edgbaston.
“The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing “subjects of the day”. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world. I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn”.
“While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls”.
The pope, finally, recalled that today is the day chosen to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the “Battle of Britain ", against Germany. "For me – he concluded - as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms”.