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Cardinal John Henry Newman becomes first English saint of modern era

Faithful gather in St Peter’s Square. Credit: AP

Cardinal John Henry Newman has been canonised by Pope Francis – the first English saint of the modern era.

In front of tens of thousands of pilgrims in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square, the Pontiff elevated the English theologian, priest and writer to sainthood.

The Prince of Wales, who represented the UK at the ceremony, has praised the cardinal as a man of principle, highlighted his work championing Catholicism and paid tribute to his enlightened thoughts on faith, education and conscience.

Four other religious figures were also canonised by the Pontiff – India mystic and founder of a religious order Mother Mariam Thresia and Swiss laywoman Marguerite Bays who dedicated her life to her community.

Mother Giuseppina Vannini, a religious sister from Rome, and Brazilian-born Sister Dulce Lopes, who set-up a foundation which is now one of the largest charitable organisations in her homeland were also honoured.

Prince Charles at the ceremony. Credit: AP

In his homily, Pope Francis called on all Christians to adopt Cardinal Newman’s definition of someone of faith, something he described as being “kindly lights”.

The pontiff told the crowds: “Today we give thanks to the lord for our new saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession.

“Three of them were religious women; they show us that the consecrated life is a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world.

“Saint Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving. That is how the lord made the splendour of the Easter radiate in her life.

“Such is the holiness of daily life, which Saint John Henry Newman described in these words ‘The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not…The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming, has no pretence…with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man’.

“Let us ask to be like that ‘kindly lights’ amid the encircling gloom.”

Cardinal Newman in his study chapel at the Birmingham Oratory in 1889. Credit: PA

Five large images of the new saints hung as a backdrop to the ceremony on the front of St Peter’s Basilica bathed in autumn sun.

Cardinal Newman shocked Victorian society when, as an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in the mid 19th century, but he went on to help change attitudes towards the Catholic Church, raising its standing in British society.

He is famed for his intellect, but part of the new saint’s enduring appeal is his “sweet humility” – a description made by a woman whose miraculous healing from a life-threatening pregnancy complication has been attributed to Newman.

A tapestry portraying Cardinal John Henry Newman. Credit: AP

Melissa Villalobos recovered from a torn placenta in 2013, which threatened her unborn child’s life and her own, after praying to the revered priest for help.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 programme Sunday, a religious news and current affairs show, she said about Cardinal Newman: “I know everybody thinks of him as this colossal intellectual, which he certainly is, but I think just as noteworthy is the enormity of his loving heart.”

The last UK individual to be made a saint was John Ogilvie, the 17th century Scottish martyr, canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1976.

He also declared the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, executed under Reformation laws in the 16th and 17th centuries, saints in 1970.