ROME — Cardinal John Henry Newman, declared a saint by the Catholic Church on Sunday, is widely recognized as one of the greatest theologians of the 19th century. Yet for Pope Francis, he’s an example of everyday sainthood.
In his homily, Francis didn’t quote Newman’s extensive writings on conscience or papal infallibility, nor did he focus on the late cardinal’s ecumenical work. Instead, he went with Newman’s definition of what a Christian should be like: so unassuming that they might seem like “ordinary people.”
“The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not…” is the Newman quote the pope chose. “The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretense… with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man.”
Together with Newman, Francis also declared four women saints: Giuseppina Vannini founders of the Daughters of St. Camilo; Sister Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family; Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes and Margherita Bays, a seamstress, who according to the pope, “speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving.”
Lopes Ponte died in 1992, and her canonization is the third fastest in history. In 1988, she Brazilian was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and many have often compared her to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Joining the thousands of pilgrims participating in the ceremony were Prince Charles, the future head of the Church of England, and the vice-president of Brazil. Some Brazilians saw the president’s decision not to go as a slight to the pope, as Jair Bolsonaro and Francis rarely see eye to eye on a range of issues, including the protection of the environment.
Earlier this week, the prince penned an article in support of Newman, published by the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. In it, Charles said that Newman’s fearless, honest example was needed today, as the world is marked by division and intolerance “for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.”
Newman, a theologian who converted from Anglicanism, is now appreciated by both Catholics and Anglicans, although upon his defection from the the Church of England in 1845, his relationship with the Anglican communion was tense.
The now saint was one of the founders of the so-called Oxford Movement of the 1830s, which sought to revive certain Roman Catholic doctrines in the Church of England.
The pope’s words on Newman and the other saints came during the homily of the Mass in which he formally introduced them in the Church’s list of saints. His mention of them came towards the end, focusing his words instead on what he described as the “three steps” in the journey of faith of the ten lepers cured by Christ, whose story is told in the day’s Gospel: to cry out to God, to walk and to give thanks.
To cry out, he said, is not to allow oneself to be paralyzed after being shunned by society. The lepers “cried out to God, who excludes no one.”
“We too, need healing,” Francis said, listing several reasons such as a lack of confidence in ourselves or the future; fears and vices that enslave us; addictions and attachments to games, money TV, phones; or the opinion of others.
Faith, the pope told the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the occasion, grows through “confident, trusting prayer.”
To walk, he said, is to advance in faith by showing humble and practical love, exercising patience and praying constantly. This walking, Francis added, must be done “together.” Of the ten who were healed by Jesus, only one of them returned in thanks, and to him Christ asks: “The other nine, where are they?”
“It is as if he asks the only one who returned to account for the other nine,” he continued. “It is the task of us, who celebrate the Eucharist as an act of thanksgiving, to take care of those who have stopped walking, those who have lost their way.”
The final step, to live a life of constant thanksgiving, is the culmination of the journey of faith.
“Let us ask ourselves: do we, as people of faith, live each day as a burden, or as an act of praise?” Francis said. “Remember to say thank you. Those words are the simplest and most effective of all.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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