Pope Benedict celebrated a beatification mass in Birmingham, England Sunday during which he moved a 19th century Anglican who converted to Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman, one step closer to sainthood. The pope also recalled the Battle of Britain on the day chosen to commemorate its 70th anniversary.
More than 50,000 people braved the cold and wet weather on Sunday to take part in Pope Benedict's final open-air mass in Cofton Park in Birmingham before he returns to Rome at the end of a 4-day visit to Britain.
Gates at the park opened at 3 am and many pilgrims arrived to overnight with their sleeping bags and umbrellas. They said this is such a historic occasion, to see the pope, that they really could not miss it.
The pope arrived by helicopter. At the very start of his homily he said this Sunday marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the World War II defense of Britain by the Royal Air Force aginst Nazi Germany's air force.
The German-born pope, who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in his country, said it was deeply moving to be here on this occasion, and to recall how many Britons sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology.
"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," he said.
Pope Benedict's main purpose of his visit to Britain was to celebrate Sunday's beatification ceremony for an Anglican who converted to Catholicism in 1845. Both Catholics and Anglicans admire him and his influence on both churches is enormous.
To put Cardinal Newman one step closer to sainthood, the pope broke with his own rule of not celebrating beatification ceremonies. Sunday's was the first beatification ceremony he celebrated and the first ever to take place in Britain.
The pope said Cardinal Newman's insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education continue to this day to inspire many around the world.
"He sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together," he said.
Pope Benedict, who wants to hold up Cardinal Newman as a model to be followed, also reflected on his life as a priest.
"He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison," he said.
Pope Benedict was visiting the Birmingham Oratory and meeting with the bishops of England, Scotland and Wales before returning to Rome.