Cardinal Newman was one of the greatest Englishmen, not just of his own times, but of any times. Like other courageous men and women of faith, he believed passionately that we should follow our consciences. Many, too many, have died for that same cause. In Britain, their numbers have included both Protestant and Catholic martyrs, such as Thomas More, whose trial took place in Westminster Hall, where the Pope will address representatives of civil society from across our country.
At the end of his historic visit to Britain this week, Pope Benedict XVI will beatify the cardinal during Mass in a Birmingham park where the cardinal used to take his recreation during his years as a simple parish priest in that great industrial city. It will be a moving climax to the first official visit ever made to Britain by a pope.
I use the word “historic” for this visit. That can often be an overworked clichÃ©. But on this occasion it is wholly accurate. That is why television channels around the world will be covering every moment of the four days he spends with us.
As Britain’s Prime Minister, I welcome the fact that my predecessors first invited the Pope to visit this country and I am delighted that he accepted that invitation and the one he received from Her Majesty the Queen. He comes here as a head of state and leader of a Church with more than six million members in Britain and almost 1.2 billion around the world. Like other faith groups, the Catholic Church proclaims a message of peace and justice to the world and we work closely with it in the furtherance of these causes.