Pope Benedict XVI marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain by paying tribute to the those who sacrificed their lives resisting the “evil ideology” of the Nazi regime as he took mass to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham.
The German-born Pope, who was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a 14-year-old schoolboy, said it was “deeply moving” to be in Britain for the occasion, which was a chance to “recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings”.
The Pope was addressing a special Mass to beatify the Cardinal on the last day of the state visit, with about 55,000 people from the UK and around the world converging on Cofton Park in Rednal.
It is the first beatification to be carried out by Benedict since he was elected Pope in 2005, a mark of his lifelong interest in the 19th century clergyman and famous convert to Catholicism.
He said: “This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
“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.
“My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940.
“Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms.”
The Pope said the beatification of Cardinal Newman was an “auspicious” day.
During his four-day visit he has used the Cardinal’s example to highlight the place of the Church in society, the limitations of science, and the need for religion in schools.
He told the crowd: “His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance to Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.
“I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today.
“Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together.”
The ceremony brings Newman, who died in 1890, a step closer to becoming the first non-martyred English saint since before the Reformation.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, speaking during the Mass, described the Pope’s trip to Britain as “wonderful”.
He said: “Hundreds of thousands of people have met the Pope personally in the street and at the major events and also, through television and the internet, many others have seen him and heard what he has to say.
“I think also that the message that he has about the positive contribution of the Catholic Church and of Christian faith to society has been received very well.”
Commenting on the protests, he said: “If there are critics and protests, this is normal for us and the Pope and it is a positive sign of freedom of expression in this society.”