Pope beatifies John Henry Newman before 50,000 faithful in Birmingham

Around 50,000 Catholics gathered in Birmingham’s Crofton Park this morning to witness the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman by the Pope.

The beatification of the Victorian cardinal, who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, is the first to take place under Pope Benedict XVI and the first ever to be performed in Britain.

The cool temperatures and overcast sky gave the open-air Mass a more sombre tone than those held in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park on Thursday and London’s Hyde Park yesterday.

Addressing the crowds, the Pope acknowledged the sacrifice and bravery of Britons in the Battle of Britain, the seventieth anniversary of which is being marked today.

“For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology,” he said.

“My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940.

“Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms.”

He went on to describe Cardinal Newman as a “saintly Englishman” of “heroic virtue” and praised his continuing influence on education.

“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 for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world,” he said.

“I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today.

“Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together.”

Beatification is the third of four stages in the canonisation of a deceased Catholic. The beatification of Cardinal Newman fell on the last day of the Pope’s official state visit to Britain.

Cardinal Newman’s motto, ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’ or ‘Heart speaks unto heart’, was the theme for the papal visit, the first to Britain since John Paul II made a pastoral visit in 1982 and the first official state visit by a pontiff.

The Pope is due to meet with Catholic bishops from England, Scotland and Wales later in the day before departing for Rome this evening.