BY ANNA ARCO AND MARK GREAVES
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales will pose with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit in September to recreate a historic painting marking the restoration of the hierarchy.
When the Pope goes to St Mary’s College near Birmingham at the end of his visit to Britain he will sit in the middle of a circle of bishops for a photograph that will recreate a momentous occasion in the Church’s history.
The 1852 painting features the first Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, and other figures, including Cardinal Newman. It records the first Provincial Synod of Westminster to take place after the hierarchy was restored in 1850. Pope Pius IX issued a papal bull Universalis ecclesiae establishing the hierarchy in England. Until then Britain had been treated as mission territory.
Cardinal Wiseman was called to Rome where he was told he would become Archbishop of Westminster. He stirred up anti-Catholic sentiment in England when he issued his first pastoral letter about the restoration of the hierarchy from Rome entitled From out of the Flaminian Gate.
The Times, in a leading article, referred to the restoration of the hierarchy as “one of the grossest acts of folly and impertinence which the court of Rome has ventured to commit since the crown and people of England threw off its yoke”. Protests were held across the country and effigies of Pope Pius IX were burned on Guy Fawkes night.
In response to the uproar, Cardinal Wiseman clarified that the focus of the Catholic mission in England and Wales was not Parliament or royal palaces but the “labyrinths of lanes and courts, and alleys and slums, nests of ignorance, vice, depravity and crime, as well as of squalor, wretchedness and disease; whose atmosphere is typhus, whose ventilation is cholera; in which swarms a huge and almost countless population, in great measure, nominally at least, Catholic”.
The meeting in the painting took place in 1852 at St Mary’s College in Oscott. At the event, Cardinal Newman preached his celebrated “Second Spring” sermon about the return of English Catholicism. In 2002, the Bishops of England and Wales also sat for a portrait photograph based on the painting to commemorate the 150th anniversary of that first Synod of Westminster.
The Pope will visit St Mary’s on Sunday, September 19, after the beatification of Cardinal Newman. He will have lunch with the bishops, and pray with them, as well as have a formal meeting.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster will address the Pope. The Pope will then address the bishops.
Afterwards the Pope will be taken to Birmingham airport and given a state farewell. At the same time the Bishops of England and Wales and guest bishops from around the world will gather at the Birmingham Oratory.