The primacy of conscience

Benedict XVI will proclaim him Blessed on September 19 in Coventry

In three months’ time – on September 19 – John Henry Newman will be beatified by Benedict XVI during a public Mass in Coventry. The English Catholic Church devoted a section of the website on the papal visit to England to the event (www.thepapalvisit.org.uk). Jack Valero, the press officer for the relations with the media, conveyed to SIR the media’s expectations regarding this major event, the recently published works on Newman, the reason why he is interpreted in so many different ways and why polemics are expected as the beatification draws close. Jack Valero also serves as Opus Dei press officer in Great Britain. How did the beatification process come to completion?“Newman was proclaimed “Venerable” on the basis of his writings in 1991. He was then recognized a miracle, which paved the way to his beatification. He will need one more miracle to be canonized. The first beatification process was followed by the priests of the Oratory in Birmingham, the postulator of the cause was Richard Duffield”.Why is a miracle needed? “Often the life of the beatified person constitutes a miracle in itself. Nobody knows what happens in the heart of a person except God. With the miracle we have the confirmation that God Himself considers that person a saint. When people pray for a miracle they are asking God to confirm the sanctity of a person”.Is his beatification by the Pope to be viewed as an extraordinary event?“This Pope decided that the local bishop should be responsible for the beatification. In the case of Newman he decided to preside over the ceremony himself. The Holy Father considers him a very important figure for the Church, and probably changed the procedure for this reason”.Has the media shown major interest for Newman? “Several articles and books on Cardinal Newman were issued over the last few weeks. This interest is expected to increase as the beatification draws near”.Why so much interest?“A Times article released in mid-May titled “The battle for the soul of Newman” by the religious correspondent Ruth Gledhill, explained that there is a battle around his figure that is interpreted in different ways. Some see him as a traditional figure, yearning to follow the dogma and the authorities’ teachings. While others believe that with his conversion Anglicans began to accept and respect Catholic faith. There are also those who regard him as the champion of progressive conscience against the authority and that in this modern vision of faith he anticipated the Second Vatican Council. A large number of Anglicans consider him a hero who renewed the Anglican Church. Indeed, various groups justly consider him as their champion”.And who is right?“Everyone is. It can be said that many of his ideas, a new role for the laity and the primacy of conscience, were new for the 19th century in which he lived and that they became clear only in the 20th century”. Fact SheetJohn Henry Newman (London, February 21 1801 – Edgbaston, August 11 1890) was a Theologian, filosopher and cardinal. He was certainly a major proser and the most authoritative British faith apologist ever. He wrote his own epitaph, which is engraved on his tomb, and which narrates the story of his pilgrimage: “From shadows and symbols to the truth”. John belonged to an Anglican family. After having studied in Oxford for a few years he was ordained deacon of the Anglican Church in 1824. He was nominated college tutor while he continued his philosophical and theological studies. The study on the origins of Christianity published in 1845, titled “The Development of Christian Doctrine” was critical to his passage to Christianity. The survey led him to conclude, “The Catholic Church is formally on the side of reason”. On October 9 of the same year he entered the Catholic Church. He left from Oxford and settled down in Birmingham. In 1847 he was ordained Catholic priest in Rome. He was fascinated by the figure of Saint Philip Neri and founded the Congregation of the Oratory in Edgbaston, near Birmingham (currently part of Birmingham) and in London. He served as Dean of the Catholic University in Dublin from 1851 to 1857. He returned to England to continue his studies and engage in pastoral activity.

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