Pope Benedict XVI’s four-day state visit to Britain draws to a close, as thousands of pilgrims gather in Birmingham to witness the beatification of Cardinal Newman.
An estimated 55,000 people converged on Cofton Park in Rednal, Birmingham, for a special mass held by the Pope on his last day of his official visit.
Addressing the crowd the Pope said the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman was an “auspicious” day.
It is the first beatification to be carried out by Benedict since he was elected Pope in 2005, a mark of his lifelong interest in the 19th century clergyman and famous convert to Catholicism.
During his four-day visit he has used the Cardinal’s example to highlight the place of the Church in society, the limitations of science, and the need for religion in schools.
The ceremony brings Newman, who died in 1890, a step closer to becoming the first non-martyred English saint since before the Reformation.
The beatification miracle
The beatification comes amid what the Catholic church deem a miracle of curing a man's agonising spinal disorder, writes Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson. One more identified miracle and it all moves to canonisation and Newman's then a saint. Which rather begs the question - are their 1000s beatified, but awaiting canonisation?
It appears Newman will be far from alone in the Waiting Room of the Saintly. There are scores of global interest groups within Catholicism steadily promoting their man or woman for sainthood, year upon year, across the world.
With the issue of meeting victims of sex abuse dealt with yesterday, speculation now turns upon whether or not Benedict will renew his offer of succour in Rome for Anglican priests who cannot tolerate women being ordained.
That might seem apposite on the day Cardinal Newman is elevated: a man who famously crossed from Anglicanism to Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI told the crowd: “His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance to Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.”
The Pope also used the event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain by paying tribute to those who sacrificed their lives resisting the “evil ideology” of the Nazi regime.
The German-born Pope, who was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a 14-year-old schoolboy, said it was “deeply moving” to be in Britain for the occasion, which was a chance to “recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings”.
Steady rain failed to dampen the spirits of thousands of the faithful, who trooped into the park armed with folding chairs and dressed in waterproofs.
Yesterday the Pope met victims of child abuse within the Catholic church. The Pope, whose first visit to the UK has been clouded by the abuse crisis, expressed his “deep sorrow” for the “unspeakable crimes” that have unfolded in recent months.
Addressing the faithful at Holy Mass at Westminster Abbey, Pope Benedict XVI said: “I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers.
“Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives.
“I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins.”