By Richard Shaw CARDINAL NEWMAN was "one of the most distinguished and versatile champions of English spirituality", Pope John Paul II said this week in a message marking the 200th anniversary of the theologian's birth.
In a letter addressed to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, the Pope looked forward to the day when the great English cardinal could be proclaimed a saint.
He said: "Let us pray that the time will soon come when the Church can officially and publicly proclaim the exemplary holiness of Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most distinguished and versatile champions of English spirituality."
In the letter, read out at a solernn Mass at Birmingham Oratory on Wednesday, the Pope praised Newman for reconciling faith and reason at a time when they were often fiercely opposed.
He said: "Newman was born in troubled times which knew not only political and military upheaval but also turbulence of soul. Old certitudes were shaken, and believers were faced with the threat of rationalism on the one hand and fideism on the other.
"In such a world, Newman came eventually to a remark
able synthesis of faith and reason which were for him 'like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth'."
He added that Cardinal Newman, who was born on February 21, 1801, belonged to every time and place and people.
The Mass at Birmingham Oratory was the centrepiece of worldwide celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the cardinal's birth. At least ten bishops were expected to attend, together with 50 priests and a congregation of about 600 people.
In a message regretting that he could not attend the Mass, Archbishop Comae MurphyO'Connor of Westminster said that Newman was "among the greatest Christian thinkers".
The archbishop, who was in Rome to receive the red hat, said the Church was grateful for Newman's creativity, loyalty and faith.
He said: "While he was always faithful to the tradition of the Church, he constantly explored new ways of communicating the eternal truth of Jesus Christ. We can do no better in our own time than to ask the prayers of the Venerable John Henry Newman for the Church in this country."
Archbishop Nichols said in his homily on Wednesday that there was now strong support for the canonisation of the cardinal. "The cause of Cardinal John Henry Newman is dear to the hearts of many. Many admire his intellectual clarity and achievements, his personal courage, his enduring loyalty in friendship. Many are moved by the depth and eloquence of his sermons," he said.
"Let us pray that the Church will soon be able to formally proclaim that holiness to be exemplary so that we may rejoice in his presence among the acclaimed saints of the Church and confidently seek his intercession before the throne of God."
Wednesday 's celebration was preceded this week by a major conference on Newman in Rome and will be followed by events across the world marking his bicentennial year.
Cardinal Newman's cause was opened in 1958. The historical commission completed its work in the late 1980s and the documentation was sent to Rome.
Then in 1991 Pope John Paul II declared the "heroism" of Newman's virtues, recognising Newman as Venerable.
Fr Paul Chavasse, general postulator for Oratorian causes in England, said: "We are still waiting for the miracle of physical healing to confirm the holiness which the Church has already declared."