Tuesday, January 4, 2011
(Above: Cardinal Newman)
On September 19, John Henry Cardinal Newman, one of the most prominent churchmen of the 19th Century, was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony in Newman's home town, Birmingham, England, that was attended by more than 60,000 pilgrims.
Two of those pilgrims were John Cummins, Bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Oakland, and Rev. George Crespin, pastor emeritus of St. Joseph the Worker parish in Berkeley.
The two have been friends since the early '60s, when Crespin was the very first priest ordained in the newly-formed Diocese of Oakland, which was split off from the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1962. Cummins was the diocese's first chancellor and Crespin's mentor.
Cummins has been a Newman fan since his seminary days, when he read Newman's famous Advent sermon, "Unreal Words."
"His point was that when you talk about God you're talking about mystery, no matter what you say," says Cummins. "I never forgot it. It made a heck of an impression on me."
As Bishop, Cummins used to quote Newman so much, people would tease him about it. Naturally, he wanted to attend the beatification.
"But I knew how much he hates to travel alone," says Crespin. "So I said, 'OK, I'll go with you.'"
Before traveling to England, they stopped in Rome for a few days to visit some old friends who work at the Vatican.
"That was our only mistake - going to Rome before we went to England," says Crespin. "We should have gone to England first because after Rome, the food in England was a big comedown."
But food aside, Birmingham turned out to be everything they hoped for - and more.
"We had been worried that people might think the Pope was trying to poach followers from the Church of England because Newman left the Anglican Church to become a Roman Catholic," says Crespin. "But there was no resentment at all. In fact, I noticed a number of Anglican bishops at the beatification."
Cummins adds, "The streets were lined with people. They still have a very positive memory of him, even after all these years. They're very proud that he was one of them, and they were very flattered that the Pope came. It was a big deal."
It was a four-day love-fest of welcoming speeches by the Lord Mayor, prayers, scholarly seminars, receptions, and a performance of Edward Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius" (inspired by a famous Newman poem of the same name), performed in the same concert hall where it had its first performance 100 years ago.
But, ironically, they never made it to the beatification ceremony itself. On the morning of the ceremony it started raining cats and dogs, and Crespin suddenly suffered an excruciating flare-up of gout. So, rather than facing the prospect of standing for four hours or more in the rain, Cummins sensibly suggested they watch on TV in their hotel room, instead.
"It turned out to be the right decision," he says. "The Pope speaks with a heavy German accent; and with outdoor speakers and the rain, we would have missed most of what he had to say. This way, we got to hear every word."
Besides, as even non-Catholics like me know, the point of any pilgrimage isn't the destination, it's the journey. And the real journey is the journey inward.