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St John Henry Newman becomes first English saint since 1970

The Canonisation of St John Henry Newman

Cardinal John Henry Newman has been declared a saint by Pope Francis. He is the first English person to be canonised since 1970. Born in 1801, he is also the first English saint from post-Reformation times to be canonised. The open-air canonisation Mass was celebrated by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square on Sunday 13th October 2019. Four women were also promoted to full sainthood: Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan from India, Marguerite Bays from Switzerland, Giuseppina Vannini from Italy and Dulce Lopes Pontes from Brazil.

The morning of the canonisation Mass was an early start for keen pilgrims, with many arriving at St Peter’s Square hours before the 10am Mass started to secure a seat. Banners depicting the faces of the five new saints transformed the façade of St Peter’s Basilica. The Mass was attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims from across the world, including those representing the home countries of the new saints. From Westminster, Cardinal Vincent and Bishop Nicholas Hudson concelebrated at the Mass, while twenty young pilgrims in the crowd wore the red t-shirts of the Diocese of Westminster Youth Ministry. In a mark of the historical significance of the canonisation for the United Kingdom, the Prince of Wales was also in attendance.

Pope Francis’ homily focused on the Gospel story of Jesus healing the ten lepers (Luke: 17:11-19). He explained how the story reflects the journey of faith, which has three steps, and how each one of these three steps is seen in the actions of the lepers. As Pope Francis outlined at the beginning of his homily, ‘They cry out, they walk and they give thanks.’ The Pope concluded his homily by giving thanks to God for the five new saints and sharing two extracts from St John Henry Newman’s writings.

‘Such is the holiness of daily life, which Saint John Henry Newman described in these words: “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not... The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence... with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, 5).

'Let us ask to be like that, “kindly lights” amid the encircling gloom. Jesus, “stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine, VII, 3). Amen.’

Photos from the canonisation Mass of St John Henry Newman are available here.

A number of special events took place during the weekend of the canonisation to celebrate and give thanks for St John Henry Newman.

Celebratory symposium

The official celebrations began the day before the canonisation Mass with a symposium, ‘Cardinal Newman: A Celebration’, hosted by Cardinal Vincent, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Sally Axworthy, British Ambassador to the Holy See, at Casina Pio IV.

Photos from the ‘Cardinal Newman: A Celebration’ symposium are available here.

Prayer Vigil and Sacred Music Concert

On the Saturday evening, a prayer vigil took place at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The opening prayer and final blessing were given by the Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, representing the city where St John Henry Newman founded the Birmingham Oratory.

Prayers of intercession were offered by individuals whose lives had been changed by St John Henry Newman. One of these was Melissa Villalobos. Her sudden healing of in 2013, during the pregnancy of her fifth child, and after a prayer to Cardinal Newman, was approved as a miracle by Pope Francis in February 2019. It was this miracle that paved the way for his canonisation. The vigil concluded with St John Henry Newman’s famous hymn, ‘Lead, Kindly Light’. After the vigil, the basilica played host to a concert of sacred music sung by the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School.

Photos from the prayer vigil and the concert are available here.

Reception at the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide

Following the canonisation Mass, Cardinal Vincent and the Prince of Wales attended a reception at the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide, where St John Henry Newman studied for the priesthood. Among the guests was Melissa Villalobos. The Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School sang at the reception.

Addressing those gathered at the reception, the Prince of Wales spoke about Saint John Henry Newman: ‘He was able to advocate without accusation, disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, to see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion. These are principles that continue to inspire, and to guide each new generation.’

Photos of the reception are available here.

Musical Oratory

On the evening of the canonisation, Santa Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova, ‘new church’), which was constructed for St Philip Neri and the Congregation of the Oratory after the society was officially recognised by the Pope in 1575, hosted a Musical Oratory. Five of St John Henry Newman’s reflections were read, each one describing a virtue exercised by St Philip Neri. An address was given by Fr Ignatius Harrison, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and a blessing was offered by Robert Byrne, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.

Photos from the Musical Oratory are available here.

Thanksgiving Mass

The final celebration took place the next day with the Thanksgiving Mass at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. Cardinal Vincent was principal celebrant and the homily was given by Bishop Robert Byrne. The Gospel was read by Deacon Jack Sullivan, who was healed from a spinal disorder after praying to Cardinal Newman in 2001. It was this miracle that led to Cardinal Newman’s beatification in 2010.

Photos from the Thanksgiving Mass are available here.

All images on this page: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.