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Cardinal John Henry Newman Cardinal John Henry Newman 

British Ambassador: Canonization of John Henry Newman a great moment for Catholics

Sally Axworthy, Britain's Ambassador to the Holy See, talks about the upcoming canonization of English Cardinal John Henry Newman, describing it as a pivotal moment for British Catholicism.

By Francesca Merlo

“I think, like the rest of the UK, I am delighted” about the Canonisation of John Henry Newman, says Ambassador Axworthy.

Referring to the 1976 canonisation of Scotsman John Ogilvie, she recalls that it has been “over 40 years since there has been a British Saint canonised”. Not only has it been 40 years, but it is also significant as Cardinal Newman will be “the first post-reformation British Saint.”

John Henry Newman will be made Saint by Pope Francis, along with four other Blesseds, on Sunday, October 13th in St Peter’s Square.

A cause for Sainthood

The cause for John Henry Newman’s sainthood was opened in 1958.

In an interview with Vatican Radio's Linda Bordoni, Ambassador Axworthy says it has been an “opportunity” for her to “become more acquainted with Cardinal Newman and his works”.  She explains that she read history at university and had therefore studied “his role in the Oxford movement while he was still an Anglican”. However, this year she has been “reading more about his whole life”.

“Really,” continues Ambassador Axworthy, “the things he wrote were very striking and I think they remain that way”. She explains that John Henry Newman examined his faith with great “honesty”, examining questions that it posed to him – something which she believes “speaks to people even today”.

The emancipation of Catholics in the UK

Ambassador Axworthy recalls that “the emancipation of Catholics came in 1829”, and the restoration of the hierarchy in England and Wales came about in 1850. After that, she says, there was a “return to respectability,” and as Cardinal Newman was around for most of the 19th century, he was “very much a part of that”.

She then goes on to say that Cardinal Newman was a “towering intellect” in the 19th century and that, though he was “initially vilified for it”, in time he wrote some “very reasoned accounts”. If you read the history around that period, continues Ambassador Axworthy, you can see that his "vilification turned to acceptance, and not just of him, but of Catholics in general."

So, she says, though he was “very important for Catholics in the UK”, both as an historical figure and for the history of English Catholicism he is also important to many Catholics worldwide.

Prince Charles to attend the canonisation

To mark the canonisation, Prince Charles will be visiting Rome, and he will meet the Pope on Sunday morning. He will also visit the exhibition at the Venerable English College ‘John Henry Newman, a Saint in Rome’.

“Most of the places associated to Cardinal Newman are in the UK”, says Ambassador Axworthy, explaining that he was “very much rooted in Oxford”, and after he became a Catholic, in Birmingham, and that he also spent 4 years in Dublin. “But” she says, “he also made four visits to Rome”.

The exhibition displays material gathered from four institutions: Propaganda Fidae, the Venerable English College, and the Newman Centre in order to “shine a light on those four visits”

For Catholics worldwide

Finally, Ambassador Axworthy says that the weekend is a great moment for the UK and for English Catholicism, but also “for all of us more widely to celebrate someone who made a huge impact on his time” and on the times that followed.

12 October 2019, 01:04