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Thousands head to Rome for Newman canonisation

Liz Dodd - The Tablet - Fri, Oct 11th 2019

The Prince of Wales will lead the UK delegation. The Queen no longer travels abroad, so he is the highest-ranking royal who could attend.Thousands head to Rome for Newman canonisation

The Prince of Wales with Pope Francis during an audience at the Vatican Photo: Tim Rooke/PA Archive/PA Images (pic from 2017)

Thousands of Catholics from England and Wales are expected to travel to Rome for the canonisation of John Henry Newman this weekend, when he will become the first English saint of modern times.

As many as 20,000 tickets have been reserved, with a large number of pilgrims attending from the English Oratories, which were founded by Cardinal Newman. They include 50 from the Oxford Oratory, about 40 from Manchester, 20 from Birmingham, and a group from the York Oratory, which is still in formation. The Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School will sing at the Canonisation Mass on Sunday.

The Archdiocese of Birmingham, where Newman founded the first English Oratory, is sending nine different groups, including about 30 pilgrims from the cathedral, 30 from the Oratory schools, and groups from the Maryvale Institute and Newman University. As well as individual adult pilgrims, the Archdiocese of Westminster said that 25 young adults were travelling from London.

The Prince of Wales will lead the UK delegation – because the Queen no longer travels abroad, he is the highest-ranking royal who could attend – along with HM Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols will lead a delegation of 17 English and Welsh bishops, including the Archbishops of Birmingham, Southwark and Cardiff. 

While there was not due to be any official presence from the Irish Government or University College Dublin, which Newman founded, the Irish Church is due to be represented by a group of four bishops, including the Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, and 30 pilgrims.

At a Foreign Office briefing on Monday Cardinal Nichols noted that Newman’s canonisation was taking place during the Synod on the Amazon, and alongside the canonisations of four women from communities in India, Brazil and Europe, was something that he said indicated the universal nature of the Church.

Asked about Newman’s significance as a reconciler in the Brexit era, Cardinal Nichols, who recently returned from a meeting of European bishops, said: “From an ecclesial point of view, our relationships and our bonds across Europe remain the same, and, in fact, if anything, might be made more resolute." Newman’s own insights could “help to get beyond populism, narrow nationalism, and the forces that might push us towards conflict,” he added.

Pope Francis arrives in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace in July for an "ordinary public consistory" to approve the canonisations of Newman and four others. (Pic: CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“At the end of the day, that was the real purpose of the European Union, of the European project. The European project was not about being a trading bloc: it was not about economic solidarity: it was a response to years of chaos, trying to find the foundations on which we could build,” he said. “Obviously economics are an important part of that, but I suspect that what the whole of Europe needs to learn again is the deeper horizons that were the original horizons of the European project, and I think the solidarity between people of the same Christian faith and the exploration of contacts with other faiths is a major contribution to keeping that longer horizon in view and trying to identify some of its features.”

The government will be represented by the Prime Minister’s recently-appointed Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Rehman Chishti, as well as the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, whose members include Sir Edward Leigh MP, Baroness (Sheila) Hollins and Lord Gordon of Strathblane. No Cabinet members were due to be in attendance.

The Church of England will be represented by a delegation of six bishops, including the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth. Newman’s two Oxford colleges – Oriel, where he was a fellow, and Trinity, where he studied as an undergraduate – will be represented by their Provost and President respectively. Meanwhile Birmingham, where Newman established the first English Oratory, will be represented by its Lord Mayor, Councillor Mohammed Azim.

Events are due to take place across the country during and after the canonisation weekend. Highlights include a service of ecumenical vespers at Westminster Cathedral on the 19 October, at which Cardinal Nichols will preside and the Archbishop of Canterbury will preach. The York Oratory in formation will host a musical oratory on 28 November, due to be attended by the Bishops of Hexham and Newcastle and Middlesborough.

The Oxford Oratory launched a triduum of prayer in preparation last Sunday, while the Church of Blessed Dominic Barberi at Newman's former community in Littlemore planned a procession and veneration of the saint's relics, as well as a special thanksgiving Mass after the canonisation. A live-screening of the canonisation Mass is also to be held at Oxford University's Catholic Chaplaincy, which is hosting a novena of prayer from 4 October and prayer vigil on Saturday.

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For more information about Newman events in Rome and the UK, visit

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