On pilgrimage to Rome and the canonisation of S. John Henry Newman


Canon Michael Moore is parish priest of the parishes of S. Thomas More, Knighton; the Immaculate Conception, Oadby; S. John Bosco, Eyres Monsell; and S. Mary, South Wigston. Ms. Jackie Williams is secretary to Father Michael, in his ministry in south Leicester. Here they describe their pilgrimage to Rome in October, which coincided with the canonisation by the Holy Father on the 13th of that month of the English Oratorian, S. John Henry Newman.

"This wasn’t my first trip to Rome, nor my first pilgrimage. For myself, I define pilgrimage as a journey, both physical and emotional, to a sacred place for a religious purpose whilst tourism is a physical journey to a place for pleasure and interest.

"You cannot be coerced into pilgrimage – it has to be taken freely as it is a statement of faith. To be a tourist might be physically demanding but less so emotionally. The preparations for both tourist and pilgrimage can be very similar and demanding practically – from making arrangements for the care of loved ones in your absence to conforming with airline regulations but as pilgrim the spiritual preparation is even more challenging: preparation in prayer with the Novena to Newman and celebrating the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist in the hope that I would be open to the adventure that awaited us in Rome.

"As we gathered on Sunday 13th October for the Canonisation of John Henry Newman in St. Peter’s Square there was a great sense of journey from all around the world. Crowds upon crowds of people were patiently queuing to pass through security but as we waited stories were shared – where have you come from and what brought you here today? In the long and slowly moving queue, to our left were a couple from Canada celebrating their 35th Wedding Anniversary. They had arrived unknowing about the Canonisation but delighted to have obtained tickets. He had spent his career in the USA Navy as a mechanical designer and was pondering what da Vinci would be making out of the carbon fibres of our world today. To our right was a young French mother carrying a baby. She told us she would tell the baby all his life that he was present in the Square on this day. He will not remember, but I will remember for him, she said. Through the necessary security and we are seated by a Franciscan from the Cameroon and amazingly in a crowd of 20,000 that thronged the square alone, our own parish priest from whom we had previously been separated! The sky could not have been bluer as the sun blazed down upon us as we awaited the start of the Mass of Canonisation.

"To my surprise John Henry Newman was not the only person to be canonised during this Mass. There were four women – 3 nuns and a lay woman joining the heavenly ranks of the saints! Giuseppina Vannini, a Roman citizen, foundress of the Congregation of the Daughters of St Camillus; Mariam Theresa Chiramel Mankidiyan from Puthenchira, India, who built a hermitage which became the seat of the community called the Congregation of the Holy Family; Dulce Lopes Pontes, a Brazilian Franciscan Sister and Marguerite Bays, a seamstress from Switzerland who remained single and dedicated herself to her family and her parish and bore the sufferings of Jesus. What unexpected joy for me that a lay woman was to be so honoured!

"From the sea of people gathered around and behind us – for the crowds reached from the Square to as far back as the River Tiber – you could sense and almost tangibly touch the universal nature of the Church; being immersed and being part of the gathered crowd was a holy experience in itself. It was a sacred realisation for me in that moment that in listening and joining with those around me praying each in our own native language that our God hears every prayer being prayed in whatever language and that whatever journey we had made, as pilgrim or tourist. To be in this place on this day, was indeed a great grace, privilege and blessing for each and every one of us.

"The Canonisation itself was very simple – Representatives from each of the causes requested that Pope Francis declare each individual a saint and he responded. The simplicity of the process seemed entirely appropriate as it was an affirmation of what had already taken place in the life of the individual saint.

"In St Peter’s Square, during the Mass, I was able to answer my own question - Do I travel as pilgrim or tourist? I went wanting to be part of an historical day; I came away knowing that something bigger than history was present on this day and throughout the whole journey to Rome. I had been open to the adventure and discovered the Holy in this place; in the people gathered; in the journey and queuing; in my travelling companions; in the sounds and in the silence; in the telling and hearing of stories; in the eating and in the drinking and even in the walking on ancient cobbles - all gracious gifts from God to this humble pilgrim."

Jackie A. Williams, St Thomas More Parish, Leicester.

"It is a rare privilege in life to encounter one person who has had a gift of miraculous healing but on Monday 14 th October 2019 thousands of us had the pleasure of being in the presence of two such people: a Deacon from Boston, Massachusetts, Jack Sullivan cured from a degenerative spinal cord disorder and Melissa Villalobos cured of a severe internal bleeding which was life threatening for her and her unborn child.

"Thousands of pilgrims made their way towards the magnificent Basilica of St John Lateran. There was an air of excitement among the gathering crowds as this was a Celebration Mass in Thanksgiving for the Canonisation of St John Henry Newman that had taken place the day before. As we entered the Basilica the size and the beauty of the building was awe inspiring but even more so was the evident joy of the people gathering and rapidly filling the vast space. I made my way to the Sacristy which was overflowing with bishops and priests, many greeting each other with obvious delight and like myself meeting people so of whom I had not seen for over forty years. One or two people were valiantly trying to shepherd the shepherds into some kind of order. We eventually formed a long procession as we made our way through the Nave and onto the Sanctuary. Cardinal Vincent Nichols presided, beaming happily on this unique occasion. After a welcome by the Cardinal, the Mass proceeded with reverent dignity and was beautifully enhanced by the singing from the Birmingham Oratory Choir. Deacon Jack Sullivan himself proclaimed the Gospel with great power. From the Choir stalls I glanced down and saw a young woman, who I later found out was Melissa, with her husband, David, and their seven children, all beautifully dressed and obviously enjoying every moment. The fifth child, Gemma, now five years old, was the one whose life was in danger from the haemorrhaging, now full of life and in gratitude Melissa and David called their sixth child, John Henry.

"Our group of pilgrims had a number of priests who had been ordained in the Anglican Church and made a similar journey as St John Henry. It was wonderful to listen to their stories and very humbling to hear of the sacrifices they made to “go over to Rome”. Another of our group was a relative of St John Henry and as we were walking towards the exit after Mass, we saw Melissa with a group of people. We sent over to her and he said “I am a relative of St John Henry Newman and I am so glad that he gave you this wonderful gift.” Her face lit up with joy and she said “Praise the Lord!” with a deep sincerity which reminded me that the whole celebration was not about her or even John Henry Newman but about the Lord and what he can do in our lives. She shook both of us by the hand and I left feeling deeply privileged. I am sure all that were present on that day took away with them a feeling of deep gratitude for being part of such a momentous event and an awareness that God is truly with his people."

Fr. Michael Moore, Parish Priest.