From Catholic Cardinal to English Saint

Posted by News Express | 12 October 2019 | 941 times

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I have a fascinating affection for the English people and substantially with the English Language, because of a number of factors.

First, as someone who in his early teens in the 1980's in the high school became fascinated with current affairs and also as one of the well-performing students of the English Language (forgive my sounding immodest) in our then modest public-owned Kafanchan Teachers College who was taught by mostly expatriate teachers, I can say that I fell in love with anything English for so long. My romance with the English has been a very prolonged experience. 

To begin with, one of my earliest ambitions was to become a journalist and a writer. And since in our peculiar environment English is the official language of business and since politically Nigeria’s umbilical cord as a sovereign entity was practically buried by the then English colonial masters, you can pardon me if I tell you that I actually thought that the English language was the official language spoken all around the world. 

Childhood fantasy you may say.

It was not long after I met my first English teacher in the high school who hailed from Philippines that I then knew that there were other extensively spoken languages outside of the English language, given that over half of the populations of China numbering in their billions are not required to speak or know the English language to attain success in life. 

But even after this childhood’s baptism of cultural shock of knowing that the language spoken by the native English people was not the only dominant world language, the undying love in anything or most things English has never left me.

These fundamental facts are behind my love for always spending yearly vacations in the United Kingdom, for a period spanning well over 15 years. I can state without equivocation that spending one’s vacation in England, stylishly and righty called Great Britain, is worth experiencing, especially if you live in one of those dysfunctional societies such as Nigeria.

The above factors, perhaps, are the reasons for my excitement upon reading from the Holy Father Pope Francis few days back that he has set a time to canonise one of the most significant figures of the 19th century Britain, who rose to the phenomenal height of a cardinal by name John Newman.

I must say that as an ardent Roman Catholic and a frequent reader of church publications, the genres that emanate from the Vatican City, I was thrilled to read about the history that would be made in the Vatican, on October 13, 2019, which is the date set by the Pope to canonise this English scholar who brought honour, dignity, excellence and humanism to the life of evangelisation. To me, Fulton J. Sheen is perhaps the contemporary of this soon-to-be made a saint in the area of enthusiastic evangelism (I may be wrong since I'm not a theologian).  

I must also say that as one of the nearly two billion Roman Catholics with the undying practice of veneration of saints, just like the large followership that global football icons enjoy, the canonisation of Cardinal John Newman is a period of deep reflection on how humanity can once more transform the world to become a happy place. And surely, I'm one of the numerous followers of this soon-to-be minted saint. 

As I tried to figure out how to begin and end this brief intellectual reflection on the life of Newman, born in England, the words of another prominent theologian and church leader,  Cardinal Robert Sarah, came pouring out on to my subconscious.

He wrote: “Western civilisation is going through a lethal crisis…like at the time of the fall of Rome, when the elites only cared about increasing the luxury of their daily life, and the common people were anesthetised by increasingly vulgar amusements.”

“The barbarians are no longer at the city gates and beneath the ramparts; they are in positions of influence and in government. They shape laws and public opinion, often animated by genuine contempt for the weak and the poor.”

Cardinal Sarah, one of the most forceful traditional Catholic scholars of our time, who is an African, also reminded us thus: “In the 21st century, totalitarianism has a more pernicious face. Its name is the idolatry of complete and absolute freedom, manifested most aggressively in gender ideology and trans-humanism.”

Earlier around June 2015, Pope Francis had echoed similar sentiments that were repeated by Sarah, when he noted that the culture of consumption has led to global warming.

In a powerfully-worded encyclical, as reported in the Los Angeles Times of June 18, 2015, the leader of Catholic Church chastised those who would deny a human connection to climate change. Francis declared that the planet was indeed growing warmer, and that the dangerous trend was due largely to a culture of instant gratification.

Tragically, he said, people have grown increasingly self-obsessed, ever more distant from nature and alarmingly preoccupied with technological novelty.

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” Francis wrote in the highly anticipated encyclical, or teaching document, released Thursday.

“We may well be leaving to coming generations, debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes.”

At a Vatican news conference, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who wrote a draft of the document, said humanity is facing a “crucial challenge” that needs to be addressed through dialogue.

“For Pope Francis, it is imperative that practical proposals not be developed in an ideological, superficial or reductionist way,” he said.

Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church, said the environmental crisis was also a spiritual problem caused by the rise of individualism and a greed for personal happiness.

He warned that it could leave future generations to inherit a damaged world, if not addressed.

 “The pursuit of individual happiness has been made into an ideal in our time,” he said. “Ecological sin is due to human greed, which blinds men and women to the point of ignoring and disregarding the basic truth that the happiness of the individual depends on its relationship with the rest of human beings.”    

There is a nexus between these epochal thoughts and the life and times of Newman, who will become a saint in a period when the issues of dehumanising the world and checking global warming have gained momentous interest. 

The canonisation of this 19th century iconic English reverend gentleman who deployed his talents to try to evangelise his large audiences on ways to make the world a better place for humanity, would surely be a time for the church to once more remind the rest of us what virtues that set saints apart from others; even while they were imperfect beings who lived in an imperfect world which has become much more imperfect in our contemporary times.

The Telegraph of Britain wrote a beautiful prose in the year 2011 on how to become a saint. The writer clearly spelt out that saints are not born, but they are people who strove in their lifetimes to be shining examples on how to humanise and transform the human society to that of peace, harmony, love and social justice even amidst the vicissitudes of life.

Most saints don't set out to become a saint, instead they live a devoted Catholic life and spend their time serving God and helping people in need. Eventually, their good deeds are recognised after their death, and the Pope canonises them, the newspaper echoes. 

However, The Telegraph stated that there are a few things that must happen before anyone can become a saint. These are: To become a saint you must first be a devoted Christian, ideally a Catholic; you must lead a saintly life. This includes being selfless and benevolent and an exemplary role model and teacher. It also involves loving and serving God. You must perform at least two miracles. These are seen by the Church as affirmations that you can in fact intervene on the part of humans, and verifiable miracles are required for canonization, hope for the best. After death, whether or not you become a saint will be down to living bishops and the Pope. They will wait at least five years before beginning an analysis to make sure that your life on earth was pure, virtuous, kind, prudent and devout and, then, get canonised. 

The publication reminds us rapidly that the Catholic Church has canonised around 3,000 people. According to the church, the Pope does not make someone a saint – the designation of sainthood only recognises what God has already done.

The process of becoming a Catholic saint is lengthy, often taking decades or centuries to complete.

First, a local bishop investigates the candidate's life and writings for evidence of heroic virtue. The information uncovered by the bishop is sent to the Vatican. Then a panel of theologians and the cardinals of the Congregation for Cause of Saints evaluate the candidate's life. If the panel approves, the Pope proclaims that the candidate is venerable, which means that the person is a role model of Catholic virtues.

The next step towards sainthood is beatification, which allows a person to be honoured by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle.

Martyrs – those who died for their religious cause – can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. In order for the candidate to be considered a saint, there must be proof of a second posthumous miracle. If there is, the person is canonised.

It is clear that Cardinal John Newman will be canonised in a ceremony in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City on October 13, almost 130 years after he died. He will be the first English person born since the 17th century to be declared a saint by the Catholic Church, so echoes the British tabloid. 

Newman, the newspaper recalled, was ordained as a priest in the Church of England but converted to Catholicism in 1845. He is regarded as one of the most influential figures from his era for both Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, revered for his hymns and poetry and for his devotion to the people of Birmingham.

He was a powerful preacher and founded the Birmingham Oratory religious community. When he died in 1890, more than 15,000 people lined the city’s streets for his funeral procession.

Pope John Paul II declared Newman “venerable” in 1991, recognising his life of “heroic virtue”. In 2010, on a visit to the UK, Pope Benedict XVI declared him “blessed”, saying Newman applied “his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing subjects of the day.” Newman continued “to inspire and enlighten many all over the world,” Benedict added.

A second miracle attributed to Newman – the healing in 2013 of a woman with life-threatening complications in her pregnancy – was approved by Pope Francis this year, paving the way to his canonisation.

In 2008, a decision to move Newman’s remains to a new tomb in Birmingham Oratory in preparation for his canonisation was criticised by the gay rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell and others.

They argued that it contravened his written wish to be buried next to his close friend, Fr Ambrose St John. The oratory said the order had come from the Vatican. Tatchell said it was “an act of shameless dishonesty and personal betrayal by the homophobic Catholic Church.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, said of Monday’s announcement: “This is a moment of great pride … John Henry Newman is known for many great qualities, but we remember him particularly for the kindness and compassion of his ministry to the people of Birmingham.”

Christopher Foster, the Anglican bishop of Portsmouth and co-chair of the English and Welsh Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee, said: “The canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman is very good news for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and we give thanks with them for this recognition of a holy life formed in both our communions that continues to be an inspiration for us all.”

Sally Axworthy, the British ambassador to the Holy See, said: “Cardinal Newman had a major impact on Catholic theology and on education worldwide, making him a truly global Briton. He brought his experience from the Anglican Church to his work as a Catholic, bridging the two traditions.” 

This event has generated huge interest among British people and is sure to become one of the most phenomenal events for lovers of great saints like myself.

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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