Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman at an open-air Mass on Sunday and marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a personal reflection on the evil of the Nazi regime, praising those who "courageously" resisted it.
It was the second time in his four-day state visit to Britain that the German-born Benedict had made reference to the Blitz, the attack on the British mainland by Nazi bombers and fighters during World War II, the anniversary of which is being commemorated in these days.
Newman, a 19th century convert from Anglicanism, was enormously influential in both the Anglican and Catholic churches. Sunday's beatification moved the former Anglican cleric a step closer to possible sainthood in the spiritual highlight of the pontiff's trip.
The pope spoke to British people near Coventry, which suffered a major bombardment in November 1940.
"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," Benedict told the crowd in his homily.
"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."
Benedict himself was forced to join the Hitler Youth and then served in the army before deserting near the end of the war. Benedict has spoken out before about the evil of the Nazi regime. But not even at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland, nor at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, did he refer to his personal experience as a German who lived through it.
Police, meanwhile, released six men who were arrested on suspicion of plotting an attack against the pope. The men were freed without being charged late Saturday and early Sunday. Police said searches of eight homes in north and east London and two businesses in central London had not uncovered any weapons or suspicious material. On Friday, Benedict's visit had been overshadowed by the arrests.
Newman gave up a brilliant academic career at Oxford University and the pulpit of the university church to convert to Catholicism in 1845, convinced that the truth that he had been searching for could no longer be found in the Church of England. The decision caused pain at a personal and institutional level, in that he lost friends and Anglicans lost one of their brightest stars.
Newman moved to Birmingham shortly after being received into the Catholic Church, founded the Birmingham Oratory in 1848 and died here in 1890.
Newman moved closer to possible sainthood after the Vatican verified a miracle attributed to his intercession. Jack Sullivan, a Boston-area deacon, says he was relieved of pain following back surgery immediately after praying to Newman. Sullivan read the Gospel at Sunday's Mass.
Sunday was the first time Benedict celebrated a beatification; under his own rules popes don't beatify, only canonize. The shift was a calculated gesture that underscores Benedict's view that Newman is a crucial model at a time when Christianity is on the wane in an increasingly secularized Europe.
On Saturday, Benedict met with four women and a man who were molested by priests as children, his latest efforts to repair the sex abuse scandal that has convulsed his church. He told British Catholics at a Mass in Westminster Cathedral he was ashamed by such "unspeakable" crimes and said he hoped the humiliation the church feels will help victims and the church alike heal.
As Benedict met with the victims, thousands of people marched through central London to protest his visit, angered by the abuse scandal as well as Benedict's hard line against gays, abortion, women's ordination and using condoms to fight AIDS. It was the biggest demonstration ever against Benedict in his 5-year papacy.
Anglicans split from Rome in 1534 when English King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment. In the centuries that followed, Catholics in Britain were fined, discriminated against and killed for their faith.
Newman was one of the founders of the so-called Oxford Movement of the 1830s, which sought to revive certain Roman Catholic doctrines in the Church of England by looking back to the traditions of the earliest Christian church. Within Catholicism, his writings on conscience, infallibility and universities have greatly influenced church teaching.
Yet Newman's legacy is complex: Liberals like his emphasis on conscience, conservatives admire his submission to authority and his devotion to celibacy. Some gay activists have claimed him as one of their own, as Newman was buried in the same grave with the Rev. Ambrose St. John, his companion of more than 30 years.
Church officials insist there is nothing in the record that shows Newman was gay, noting that double graves were common at the time.
Many have questioned whether Benedict's glorification of such a famous Anglican convert during a state visit to Britain might be perceived as a provocation to an Anglican church weak from internal divisions over women's ordination as bishops. It also comes at a delicate time in Catholic-Anglican relations following Rome's move last year to make it easier for conservative Anglicans to convert.