Pope canonizes John Henry Newman, 19th-century theologian
VATICAN CITY — With Prince Charles looking on, Pope Francis on Sunday canonized Cardinal John Henry Newman, praising the 19th-century Anglican convert who became an influential, unifying figure in both the Anglican and Catholic churches.
Francis quoted from one of Newman’s most famous hymns, “Lead, Kindly Lights,” as he presided over Mass on Sunday before an estimated 50,000 people in a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square to declare Newman and four women saints.
Among the luminaries on hand was Charles, heir to the British throne, who penned a remarkable ode to Newman that was published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. The Prince of Wales, whose mother is the head of the Church of England, praised Newman for bridging divisions and showing the courage of following his convictions.
Newman, a theologian and poet, is admired by Catholics and Anglicans alike because he followed his conscience at great personal cost. When he defected from the Church of England to the Catholic Church in 1845, he lost friends, work and even family ties, believing the truth he was searching for could only be found in the Catholic faith.
In his homily, Francis recalled that the Christian “journey of faith” sometimes is an uphill, uncomfortable battle such as the one Newman experienced.
“Faith calls for journey, a ‘going out’ from ourselves, and it can work wonders if we abandon our comforting certainties, if we leave our safe harbors and our cozy nests,” he said. “Faith increases by giving and grows by taking risks.”
Francis concluded his homily quoting from Newman’s hymn, penned when the theologian fell ill while travelling and was apparently longing for the certainties of home and faith.
“Let us ask to be like that, “kindly lights” amid the encircling gloom,” Francis said.
Anglicans split from Rome in 1534 when English King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment. In the centuries that followed, Catholics in Britain were fined, discriminated against and killed for their faith.
In his editorial, Charles said that Newman’s fearless, honest example was needed today in an era marked by division and intolerance “for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.”
He echoed Francis by saying all Christians can give thanks for Newman’s example and friendship.
“In the image of divine harmony which Newman expressed so eloquently, we can see how, ultimately, as we follow with sincerity and courage the different paths to which conscience calls us, all our divisions can lead to a greater understanding and all our ways can find a common home,” Charles wrote.
Newman was one of the founders of the so-called Oxford Movement of the 1830s, which sought to revive certain Roman Catholic doctrines in the Church of England by looking back to the traditions of the earliest Christian church.
But he gave up a brilliant academic career at Oxford University and the pulpit of the university church to convert to Catholicism in 1845. As a Catholic, he became one of the most influential theologians of the era, bringing elements of the Anglican church into his new faith tradition.
Newman’s legacy is complex for Anglicans and Catholics alike: Liberals like his emphasis on conscience while conservatives admire his submission to authority and his devotion to celibacy. Yet some gay activists have claimed him as one of their own, as Newman was buried in the same grave as the Rev. Ambrose St. John, his companion of more than 30 years.
Pilgrims from across the English Channel flooded the canonization ceremony toting Union Jacks, many of them participating in a dayslong celebration in Rome that included conferences, walking tours and exhibitions about Newman’s life and trials.
“He was the most wonderful priest for the poor people,” said U.K. philanthropist Clive Richards, who came to Rome for the event. “It was the poor people of central Birmingham who he looked after, and they were the people who lined the route to his funeral.”
On the eve of his canonization, one of the Vatican’s most senior English-speaking officials, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, declared that Newman should be made a doctor of the church to honor the tremendous influence his writings had on the development of Christian doctrine.
Ouellet choked up as he delivered a speech on Newman and his role in bridging the theological gaps between the Anglican and Catholic traditions.
Newman was canonized along with four women, including three nuns from the 19th and 20th centuries — Sisters Giuseppina Vannini of Italy, Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan of India and Brazilian Dulce Lopes Pontes — as well as Swiss laywoman Margherita Bays.
Born in 1914 to a well-to-do family in Brazil, Lopes Pontes dedicated herself to the country’s poor and founded several charitable organizations. The Roman-born Vannini, meanwhile, was orphaned at 7 yet went onto found a religious order dedicated to caring for the sick.
Mankidiyan, an Indian nun who is said to have suffered from the stigmata wounds of Christ, also founded a congregation that looked after the poor and the outcast. Bays, a seamstress, is said to have suffered the stigmata as well.
“They walked in faith and now we invoke their intercession,” Francis said of the five new saints.