The Pope is in Cofton Park, Birmingham, here to beatify John Henry Newman, one time Anglican priest who decamped to Catholicism. A real catch one might say. Is this really as devotional as is being made out in all the pomp and ceremony, or is it a highly political act?
As he arrives the Pope is met by the Mayor of Birmingham, none other than Gridlock Gregory now relieved of bringing traffic to a grinding halt throughout Birmingham. And yes, surely that’s Cllr Alan Rudge (aka Grudge or Drudge and referred to here as “Alan Birch”). Another similarly uninspiring presence he presents Il Pape with a crucifix which probably set back the cash strapped Birmingham City Council a bob or two.
Newman, part of the Oxford Movement, moved to Birmingham on his change to Catholicism, and set up camp at the Birmingham Oratory. He himself was probably prepared for someone proclaiming a saint in the future. When anyone is declared Blessed as the final act before sainthood their mortal remains are dug up. It appears he had the last laugh as virtually nothing remained. Soil and probably a few worms have been retained in place of the bones that usually form part of the “Holy Relics”. Evidently Newman instructed that the soil in which he and his friend were buried would do their work quickly. It worked so there was little trace to be found.
In the park there was a gigantic cross. on this occasion not complete with tortured body. Was this a gesture towards Protestantism which prefers the empty cross to symbolise a risen Lord? On the altar, likened by the Beeb presenter to “a hanger”, there was a dramatic revealing of a huge picture of Newman. This was a rather less severe presentation, and more saintly, than the earlier metal statue where the great man looks a little cross to say the least.
I’m not sure how much all this ceremony obscures the message. I suppose those brought up with it it will have resonances and keep them on the straight and narrow.
The Gospel reading from St Luke did seem appropriate for today when we see bankers as stewards of our money. Not a bad text for Socialists!
Visit to the Oratory.