In Depth

How to become a saint

English Cardinal John Henry Newman to be canonised in October

Cardinal John Henry Newman, who died in 1890, is to become the first English saint in almost 50 years. 

The British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, said that Cardinal Newman had “a major impact on Catholic theology and on education worldwide, making him a truly global Briton”.

Pope Francis announced that Cardinal Newman, who was a leading Oxford intellectual and Anglican priest, will be canonised on 13 October.

The last English saints to be canonised, in 1970, were the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, who had been executed under Reformation laws.

Who is Cardinal John Henry Newman?

According to The Guardian, Newman was “one of the most significant figures in 19th-century Britain”. He was a respected scholar known for his hymns and poetry, as well as his work helping the poor and sick.

Newman was an Anglican priest before converting to Catholicism in 1845. At the time Roman Catholics were a minority in England. They were excluded from government positions and suffered prejudice and bigotry.

Historians allege that Newman was “hailed by the Vatican for improving relations between religions”, according to AP News

His sermons largely explored the relationship between faith and reason. Pope Benedict XVI, ranked him alongside St Thomas More as Britain’s “great witness of conscience”, and his teachings are said to have inspired members of the German resistance movement White Rose to oppose Nazi terror.

He also founded the Birmingham Oratory in 1849, where he died at the age of 89.

Why is he being canonised?

In order to achieve sainthood, two authenticated miracles are required.

Newman’s first miracle was declared in 2001, when Jack Sullivan, a deacon from Boston, US, claimed his spinal cord problems were cured by praying to Newman.

The second miracle took place in November 2018, when a pregnant woman in Illinois was haemorrhaging and risking miscarriage. The woman prayed to Cardinal Newman, and said the blood flow stopped immediately.

The Vatican approved both of these miracles, paving the way for canonisation.

What will the impact be?

It is possible that Cardinal Newman’s canonisation will not be widely significant, as according to ONS data, religion is declining in England and Wales.

Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, there was a 10% increase in the population reporting no religion and a drop in the population reporting to be Christian - down from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011.

But according to the Catholic Herald, Newman’s work is more relevant now than ever. “In today’s secular world, where holding even basic Christian moral convictions is regarded as “extremist” and therefore by definition irrational, Newman is a powerful champion of the reasonableness of faith”.

In a separate piece, the Catholic Herald said that Newman’s teachings “provide an antidote and could prove to be vital for the future existence and flourishing of the English Church.

“It could be that Newman’s canonisation, to paraphrase another celebrated Englishman, is not even the beginning of the end, but is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,” the news site adds.

How saints are chosen

The process of becoming a saint - canonisation - differs between churches. For the Catholic Church the process begins with the bishop of the diocese, who opens an investigation into a deceased person who has “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom”, explains the Catholic Herald. This process usually begins no earlier than five years after their death.

A comprehensive investigation into their life, virtues, writings and sermons is undertaken, and if they are found to be “heroic in virtue”, they are declared venerable. 

Next comes beatification, which means the Church declares the person to be blessed. For martyrs, the Pope simply has to declare martyrdom. For non-martyrs, an authenticated miracle is required. 

To be canonised, two authenticated miracles are needed. Miracles are almost always a cure of illness or injury, as these are easiest for the Church to judge.

Once the two miracles have been verified by the Church, sainthood can formally be declared. 

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