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Final day

September 19, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI has beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman at an open-air mass in Birmingham. He also marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a personal reflection on the "evil ideology" of Nazism.

Pope Benedict in Birmingham
Pope Benedict held an open-air mass in front of 55,000 peopleImage: AP

The beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century theologian and convert from the Anglican Church to Catholicism has been described by the Vatican as a "positive moment" for relations between the two churches.

The ceremony conducted by the pope in England's second largest city, Birmingham, brings Newman a step closer to sainthood. It is the first beatification of Pope Benedict's papacy.

Cardinal John Henry Newman
Cardinal John Henry Newman converted to Catholicism in 1845Image: AP

Newman's life spanned most of the 19th century, dying in 1890 at the age of 89. He was originally baptized and ordained in the Church of England, but was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845.

Newman was one of the leading thinkers of his day and believed that Christianity should unite dogma and experience, and heart and mind. His writings are said to have had a profound influence on Pope Benedict.

The path to Newman's beatification was cleared last year when the Vatican said that a US deacon's agonizing spinal disorder was cured through his prayers to Newman.

Recognition of Britain's fight against Nazism

Speaking at the open-air ceremony in Birmingham attended by 55,000 people, the pope also paid a personal tribute to Britain's role in resisting Germany's Nazi regime during World War II.

"For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology."

The head of the Roman Catholic Church grew up in Bavaria in Southern Germany and, like other Germans of his generation, served in the Hitler Youth movement from the age of 14.

Britain is currently commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force's crucial air victory in September 1940.

"My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry," the pope said, "which suffered heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940."

Coventry, in the West Midlands, like the heavily-bombed city of Dresden in Germany, has become a symbol for the futility of destruction during the Second World War.

Rounding off four-day visit

The beatification mass rounds off the pope's four-day visit to Glasgow, Edinburgh, London and Birmingham. The pope returns to Rome later on Sunday.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell at the anti-pope protest
Human rights campaigners held an anti-pope protest in LondonImage: AP

During the visit the pope spoke out about what he called the spread of "aggressive secularism" in Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron thanked him for making the country "sit up and think" by asking such "searching questions." Commentators say the trip has helped ease tension with Anglicans in Britain.

But the pope also faced protests against the way the church has handled sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests. Campaigners criticized the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality, women priests and contraception.

Pope Benedict expressed remorse over the issue of pedophile priests, and met with five victims of sexual abuse by the clergy. He expressed his "shame" and "deep sorrow" for their suffering.

The Vatican on Sunday called Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain a "spiritual success."

Author: Joanna Impey (AP/AFP/dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Ben Knight