From an English Cardinal to English Saint

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

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 about current affairs and also as one of the well performing students of the English language (forgive my sounding near-immodest) in our then modest public owned Kafanchan teachers college and who incidentally 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 experiences. 

To begin with, one amongst my earliest ambitions in life was to become a journalist and a writer and since in our peculiar environment the English language 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 in a period spanning well over fifteen years and nearly two decades just as I can state without equivocation that spending one’s vacation is in England stylishly and rightky called Great Britain is worth experiencing especially if you live in one of those dysfunctional societies, the type that Nigeria is.

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 canonize 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, the eternal city on October 13th 2019 which is the date set by the Pope to canonize this English scholar who brought honor, dignity, excellence and humanism to the life of evangelization. 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 footballing icons enjoy,  the canonization of cardinal John Newman is a period of deep reflection on how humanity can once more transform the world to become a happy place. Abd sureky, 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 and time of cardinal John Newman, soon to be elevated saint born in England, the words of another prominent theologian and church leader of our time cardinal Robert Sarah came pouring out on to my subconscious.

He wrote and I quote: “Western civilization 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 anesthetized 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”.

Robert 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 transhumanism”.

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

In a powerfully worded encyclical, as reported in the Los Angeles Times of June 18th 2015, the leader of the Roman 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 Cardinal John Newman who will become saint in a period when the issues of dehumanizing the World and checking global warming have gained momentous interest. 

The canonization of this 19th century iconic English reverend gentleman who deployed his talents to try to evangelize 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 even as 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 humanize 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 recognized after their death, and the Pope canonizes 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 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 canonized. 

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

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

Firstly, 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 toward sainthood is beatification, which allows a person to be honored 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 canonized

It is clear that Cardinal John Newman will be canonized in a ceremony in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City on 13 October, 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 a happy 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, recognizing 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 canonization.

In 2008 a decision to move Newman’s remains to a new tomb in Birmingham Oratory in preparation for his canonization was criticized 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 canonization 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 amongst British people and is sure to become one of the most phenomenal events for lovers of great Saints like myself. 

*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.comwww[email protected]www.thenigerianinsidernews.com

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