While I love returning to places I know and I love travelling to new places, I had resolved that my days of international travel were now over. Airports are just too much with their customs, immigration, currency controls, crowds and above all their security. Then came the canonization of John Henry Newman in Rome, what could I do but break my resolution? From my teens on I have longed for rapprochement between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Whenever I was in a position to do so I tried to make friends, to practice dialogue. Cardinal Newman’s life and writings are part of that process. He had written after his conversion to a fellow RC “It was not Catholics who made us Catholic; it was Oxford that made us Catholic”. He didn’t mean Oxford as academe but as an epitome of Anglican belief and practice. Newman’s canonization would be for me the cherry on top of almost a lifetime’s hopes.
The train from Gatwick airport broke down. We were on another which stayed still. Then on another which ran late. However, as one well used to southern trains I had allowed for such disasters. In Rome the airline put my bag on the wrong carousel so I lost time in hunting it. Organizing clergy is like herding cats so our boss, Monsignor Newton, left us to find our own way to Rome and our own accommodation there. However he did fix me up with a clergy hostel just off the main drag, only 500 yds from St Peter’s. There were some 50 of us from the UK. We met up for parties on two successive evenings. I ate as much Italian ice cream as I could, quite the best in the whole wide world.
There were Ordinate members from the USA, Canada and Australia, some of whom I knew; it was these fellow colonials who said, “we’ve got VIP seats with us for you at the service from where you’ll be nearer the action”. There were several hundred bishops concelebrating with the Pope and even more priests. Far over on the other side sat ambassadors to the Vatican in their various uniforms, the Prince of Wales in a grey suit at the head of them, who the day before had written an excellent article about Newman for the Vatican newspaper, Osservatorio Romano. A squad of Anglican bishops sat next to the diplomats. An army of deacons distributed communion in one kind. The congregation filled the square and flowed down into the avenue leading away from it.
There were other events connected with Newman. At the Angelicum university run by Dominicans there was a day of lectures. At St Mary Major church there was a service of music and readings, the choir being provided by the boys of the Oratory School in London. At St John Lateran church, the Pope’s actual cathedral, there was a mass of thanksgiving celebrated in English by the Cardinal of Westminster. Again there were multitudes of concelebrants. I chatted with a Japanese priest and a Spanish layman who had come all the way because of their enthusiasm for Newman.
All the world, it seems, is interested in Newman but not Brits, whether Anglican or Papist. And so home to dear old Blighty in its cold grey rain. I am glad to have broken my resolution.