Archbishop of Birmingham expects Pope's visit to be inspirational
Sep 17 2010 By Maureen Messent
As the Archbishop of Birmingham prepares to formally welcome Pope Benedict XVI to the city, Maureen Messent talks to him about the landmark visit.
The Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham believes the Papal visit will reinvigorate priests and the faithful will be inspired by the celebration of their ‘‘own bloke’’ Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Around 70,000 people will pack into the city’s Cofton Park to see Pope Benedict XVI celebrate Mass on Sunday, with the site opening to pilgrims at 2am.
Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley explained that the positive legacy of Pope Benedict’s time in the Midlands will be felt by the church long after his departure.
He said: “The Pope’s leaving Britain isn’t the culmination of this visit. Priests will be re-invigorated in their vocation. The faithful will be inspired at Newman’s closeness to all of us in Birmingham. He’s our own bloke. Rejoice in that.”
The Arcbishop explained that Cardinal Newman’s beatification was hugely important because ‘‘the Church recognises him as a noble soul. An academic and theologian, yes, but a chap who came to Birmingham and chose to live among our city’s earliest immigrants, the Irish, in Digbeth.’’
He said: ‘‘The gin cellars he used are still there. I mooched round them a couple of days back and thought anew that Newman, the priest, knew as much of the troubles facing hard-up families in those times as he knew of the early Fathers of the Church.’’
The Archbishop said people then were tougher, not easily taken in, yet they lined the streets as his funeral procession went by.
‘‘They wouldn’t have done this had Newman, the intellectual, the writer, the poet, struck them as aloof or hard to approach. While the Queen invited Benedict to Britain, making this the first state visit of a Pontiff since the Reformation, it’s thought likely that it was Newman’s beatification that nudged Benedict into the decision to come.
“He is an enormous Newman admirer. He studied him in his student days. He pored over his writings and he wants to honour him in his home city of Birmingham.
“One other point. Some of Newman’s portraits certainly show a melancholy man, but he wasn’t. He wrote novels. He laughed. Read him and see if you still find him a sober-sides.’’
Archbishop Longley addressed the question that some Catholics may have found Pope Benedict a surprising choice of Holy Father because he has no experience of running a parish.