Archbishop of Birmingham talks about the papal visit and Cardinal Newman's legacy
What are you looking forward to most about the beatification and the whole trip?
The beatification comes as the culmination of the four-day visit of the Holy Father and I think that the interest and excitement towards the beatification will build up inevitably within those four days. I think that’s right because, as far as I understand it, one of the things which has persuaded Pope Benedict to accept this invitation on the part of Her Majesty’s Government, to accept also the welcome from our own Catholic Church in England and Wales and Scotland is precisely because of the beatification of Cardinal Newman. His own interest in this – and it is significant that he has decided, has chosen to do something which is quite unusual today which is personally to beatify somebody. This indicates, I think, the significance for the Catholic Church internationally of Cardinal Newman’s legacy, of his teaching, but also his witness as a holy priest.
There was this idea that maybe Pope Benedict would declare Cardinal Newman a Doctor of the Church. Would you hope for that? Do you think that’s a possibility?
When you look at Cardinal Newman’s legacy and all that he has contributed to religious thought, linked with his own personal holiness, I think that must be a great aspiration on the part of anybody who is delighted to see him beatified. If the Holy Father is thinking of doing that I think quite wisely he’s keeping it very quiet but if such a thing came it would be – obviously there would be a tremendous joy, no doubt, but who knows when that might be? Maybe some time in the future.
What, if anything, is your greatest worry about all the events? What could go wrong? What do you worry about?
During the event itself, I suppose, like all the other bishops, I am longing for it to run smoothly, especially as an experience of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and more broadly of for our own people, of the presence of the successor of Peter so there is a real opportunity for people in our own country to hear the Pope’s message, to see him for the gentle, good and kind leader that he is, and have an experience of him as such. And that is I think such an important part of the visit. Beyond the visit, my hope is that the legacy of the visit is something which we will really seize and use for the purpose of evangelisation, of the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ reaching people through the ministry of the Holy Father but during his time here, that people may see him as the successor of Peter but someone who is first and foremost a witness to Christ, a witness in our own country during those four days so that our own faith will be strengthened. We’ll have an opportunity of expressing that ourselves in the days after the visit.
Do you think there is a danger of his voice being drowned out by the media circus around it and all the protests and all that?
I don’t think that is a huge danger. I am minded of the visit of the Holy Father to Australia and quite a lot of the negative reaction to the papal visit beforehand. I was there, as many of us were, for the occasion during the World Youth Day visit. And to see how actually the press focused in Australia on the Holy Father himself, on his message in a wonderfully positive way, not least because of the response of the young people who were there. And I think that the greatest ally to the Holy Father’s message will be the response of our own people, of the people who welcome him to the UK. I do think that we will be called to be a true mirror to what the Holy Father says and I think that the support he will evidently have from witnessing Christians, not just Catholics, and the interest that has been there within the other faith communities will be something that people do notice.
What would you say to the people who won’t be able to get tickets? What should they do to show their support for the Pope?
Within the Catholic community I know of several parishes which are themselves organising local things for people to come together. For example, for people who won’t be able to come to the beatification on Sunday. Quite a number of parishes are offering people the chance to come together to watch the beatification and participate in the visit through watching it and then to celebrate it in their parish churches afterwards. I think on the day the Holy Father is addressing education there’s a link with all the Catholic schools there will be a link with the Holy Father in his time at St Mary’s in Twickenham, but there are already things in place to encourage and enable people to participate. But above all, during those four days, obviously to be united in prayer and that unity we already have with the Holy Father will be strengthened through his presence here. But I know the local parishes are already organising ways in which people can come together and experience the Holy Father’s visit.