The Church in England and Wales rounded off almost a month of celebrations for the canonisation of St John Henry Newman with a service of ecumenical vespers at West-minster Cathedral.
The Archbishop of Canter-bury, Justin Welby, who preached at the service – which was presided over by Cardinal Vincent Nichols – said that the sea change in ecumenical relations that has taken place over the past century would have left Newman “speechless with astonishment”.
For a modern Archbishop of Canterbury to preach about Newman – the former leader of the Oxford Movement whose conversion was among the most high profile of modern times – was, he admitted, a cause for apprehension.
“Some might argue that it is like the owner of Liverpool asking the Everton manager to welcome to the Reds one of the greatest players Everton had produced, and who had left the Blues against their will,” he said. Referring to Liverpool-born Cardinal Nichols, he continued: “I know that His Eminence would deny the possibility of greatness and Everton being in the same sentence but exercise the imagination.
“Or more savagely, it might be asking a party leader to welcome one of his own who had crossed the floor in the worst of circumstances. That is how our churches are often seen, at best rivals, possibly mutual opponents, and even in some cases enemy forces in a five-century war. It is this way of thinking that leads the political turmoil of the present time to be compared to the Reformation.”
But, he said, this analogy was wrong: “For we are not enemies, nor are we opponents, nor even rivals… We are more like a family that had a very bitter dispute, a divorce in the past, and has acquired the habits and occasionally bad manners of separation. For all that we are still family, called together by grace, caught up in the love of God.”