by Sr. Cecily Bourdillion MMM Ireland 04.02.2023
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was laid to rest in the crypt below St. Peter ‘s Basilica on 5th January 2023 I remembered when I had seen him in person. Pope Benedict made an historic visit to the UK in 2010. During the visit, he beatified John Henry Newman on 19th September at Cofton Park, Birmingham.
I was on leave from Malawi visiting family in England. My sister living in Cambridge asked me if I would like a ticket to attend the Beatification. I was delighted with the offer. And so it was that I joined my sister her husband and one of her daughters on the pilgrimage to Cofton Park. With the ticket came a package containing information about the event that was to take place. It contained a brief history of John Henry Newman and a CD telling of the motto he had chosen for himself- COR AD COR LOQUITUR – Heart speaks unto heart.
The pilgrimage began with the preparation of a large picnic basket that would provide us with breakfast and then lunch. My sister was always good at preparing a picnic basket and she had willing hands to help her. We set our alarms for 2 am as we needed to be at the bus station for the 3.30 am coach to Birmingham. It was not punctual, so we waited around with no shelter from the cold and rain except our umbrellas.
At last, the coach arrived and we embarked. At that hour of the night there was not much conversation and soon heads were nodding. As we drew nearer to Birmingham the progress became slower. I woke from sleep to look out in wonder at so many coaches in front and behind us. They were at the roundabouts, coming from all directions, all heading for Birmingham. There was strict security. The coaches parked a good distance from Cofton Park. We disembarked with our raincoats, umbrellas, ground sheets and picnic basket and got ready for a long walk. Tickets were checked and so were we at a security barrier.
We were among the 50,000 people attending the Beatification of John Henry Newman. We were all walking in the same direction – to Cofton Park! As we walked along a wet road the new day was dawning so we could see the way and enjoy the lighting up of the world around us. We reached the park. It was a large area of sweeping, grassy hills looking down towards the large altar erected for the occasion, a perfect natural stadium. We chose our patch and arranged our ground sheets and stools and prepared for our breakfast. There was an atmosphere of excitement and togetherness. There was a light rain, but suddenly we heard the sound of the helicopter bringing Pope Benedict to us and the rain stopped and the sun came out. Pope Benedict began the Mass and a good choir helped to lift up our hearts.
It was wonderful to be there cheering and clapping and praising God when Pope Benedict declared John Henry Newman Blessed. Blessed John Henry Newman’s face appeared on the large screen at the side of the altar. A very sacred and special moment!
In his homily, delivered in English, Pope Benedict highlighted the virtues and qualities of the one who he had just declared “Blessed.” The Church recognized the holiness of a Confessor, a son of this nation, who bore eloquent witness to Christ. He spent his long life devoted to his priestly ministry, preaching, teaching and writing. He also cared for his people in Birmingham, ministering to the sick and needy and visiting prisoners. His motto was ” Cor ad cor loquitur” which is “Heart speaks unto heart”. This gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness. It expresses the profound desire of the human heart to enter into communion with the Heart of God.
John Henry Newman understood vocation, the call of God. He wrote that Our Divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a definite service. ” I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling”.
In the Popemobile Pope Benedict was taken through the large crowd, blessing us and bidding us farewell. Then he entered the helicopter and was gone from us.