HRH The Prince of Wales summed up the sentiments of many around the world when he said of the canonization of John Henry Newman: ‘Those who seek to define and defend Christianity find themselves grateful for the way he reconciled faith and reason. Those who seek the divine despite overwhelming secularism and relativism find in him a powerful ally. Individual Christians find in him a perpetual inspiration for personal devotion. And in his own age countless people, rich and poor, who sought his counsel and assistance found in him a friend. When Newman finally left the Church of England, his sermon of farewell to the Anglican church at Littlemore—which he had founded—left the congregation in tears. It was entitled The Parting of Friends. As we mark the life of this great Briton, the great churchman, and as we will shortly say, this great saint, it is surely right that we thank him for the friendship which, despite the parting, has not merely endured but has strengthened.’ The canonization of John Henry Newman caused a flourishing of joint Anglican and Roman Catholic events, from Vespers in Westminster Cathedral at which the Archbishop of Canterbury preached to lectures and study days run jointly between parishes and dioceses. It is to be hoped in the years ahead we can build upon the work that was done around the canonization and seek to grow in unity and understanding as churches and church communities around the country. The canonization of Newman has also refocussed the church on thinking about the work of scholars and theologians and what they have to say to the wider church and secular world. It has served to remind the Church that she is called to speak to the secular world about the divine truth, and the need for people to be drawn into an understanding of their relationship with God. It is to be hoped in our own Catholic Movement in the Church of England that we can reflect upon the writings of St John Henry Newman as well as focussing on Newman as the pastor who served in some of the most difficult parts of Birmingham as a Roman Catholic priest. That combination of pastor and scholar is perhaps one from which we should promote in the training of priests, it has long been part of our Catholic heritage and we need to rediscover this all the more in the current climate within the church.
The Synod of the Amazon meeting in Rome at the same time as the canonization of Newman has not been without its critics or quite a substantial amount of criticism. One of the important issues it has raised is the way in which we as Christians relate to the environment and creation. Whilst harvest festivals, in cities, are more rightly focussed on collecting food for food banks and other support services, we must ensure that we encourage people to think about where their food comes from. This helps us to think theologically about creation and how we relate to God as creator. We need as parish communities to be thinking about whether we are sourcing and resourcing our parishes in an ethical and environmentally sound and sustainable way. The coffee we use after Mass on a Sunday may seem like a small matter but where and how that coffee is grown has a clear effect on the lives of many people. Similarly we need to think in our parishes about how we recycle items and how we safeguard the environment for future generations. We do this not out of some desire to worship the earth, or to place these concerns ahead of our faith, but because as Catholic Christians our understanding of the incarnation is fundamental to our faith, thus we are called to care for all people around the world: made in God’s image and called by Him. The role of missionaries in the Amazon has been highlighted by the Synod. We should in our churches continue to pray for the work of missionaries and evangelists both in this land and around the world. Just like St John Henry Newman, we should want to ensure all people come to know the truth of the Gospel and accept Christ as their saviour. It can be too easy, perhaps, to dwell upon the politics of the Church and not to focus on the Lord’s command to go out and call people into relationship with God. May St John Henry Newman pray for us as we seek to serve the church as scholars, pastors, missionaries and evangelists as we call the people of our nation to seek for God.