24 October 2019, The Tablet

Welby hails Newman canonisation: 'We are still family'

'We are like a family that had a divorce in the past... for all that we are still family, called together by grace.'

Welby hails Newman canonisation: 'We are still family'

The Archbishop of Canterbury, pictured here in India, has welcomed the canonisation of John Henry Newman
Hindustan Times/SIPA USA/PA Images

The Church in England and Wales rounded off almost a month of celebrations for the canonisation of St John Henry Newman this week with a service of ecumenical vespers at Westminster Cathedral.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who preached at the service – which was presided over by Cardinal Vincent Nichols – said that the sea change in ecumenical relations that has taken place over the past century would have left Newman “speechless with astonishment”.

For a modern Archbishop of Canterbury to preach about Newman – the former leader of the Oxford Movement whose conversion was among the most high profile of modern times – was, he admitted, a cause for apprehension.

“Some might argue that it is like the owner of Liverpool asking the Everton manager to welcome to the Reds one of the greatest players Everton had produced, and who had left the Blues against their will,” he said. Referring to Liverpool-born Cardinal Nichols, he continued: “I know that His Eminence would deny the possibility of greatness and Everton being in the same sentence but exercise the imagination.

“Or more savagely, it might be asking a party leader to welcome one of his own who had crossed the floor in the worst of circumstances. That is how our churches are often seen, at best rivals, possibly mutual opponents, and even in some cases enemy forces in a five-century war. It is this way of thinking that leads the political turmoil of the present time to be compared to the Reformation.”

But, he said, this analogy was wrong: “For we are not enemies, nor are we opponents, nor even rivals... We are more like a family that had a very bitter dispute, a divorce in the past, and has acquired the habits and occasionally bad manners of separation. For all that we are still family, called together by grace, caught up in the love of God.”

Newman’s canonisation, he said, before processing out of the service side-by-side with Cardinal Nichols, was an impetus for more ecumenical work, deep and rooted in love.

At the Brompton Oratory in London Fr Ignatius Harrison, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and the Actor of Newman's sainthood cause, revealed the circumstances that led to Newman’s canonisation during a Solemn Pontifical Mass in honour of St John Henry Newman that was celebrated by Cardinal Nichols.

A single London Oratory parishioner, he revealed, funded the initial investigation into Newman’s second miracle.

“In 2014, when we heard that there had been another alleged miracle, we said 'Oh good', quickly followed by 'Oh dear',” he said. “The financial implications were daunting.”

The anonymous parishioner appointed an expert to travel to the USA to investigate the case.

“The expert saw that this was a serious case, indeed an astonishing one. He advised us to open the file, first in the Archdiocese of Chicago, then in Rome. With exceptional generosity the same parishioner here also covered all the subsequent administrative expenses. Medics and other witnesses had to be interviewed and recorded. A huge documentation emerged which had to be translated then printed, and numerous other administrative hurdles gone through. Thanks to the same London Oratory parishioner, who is here tonight, the lengthy and meticulous process could be carried forward, and then finally, our petition submitted to the Holy Father Pope Francis, for his definitive approval and indispensable blessing,” he said.

Also this week a service of ecumenical vespers was celebrated at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, in the presence of Archbishop Bernard Longley and the Anglican Bishops of Birmingham, Coventry and Lichfield. In Oxford Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary of Los Angeles, spoke on "Newman and the New Evangelisation” at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin.



  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99