BIRMINGHAM, England — On his final day in Britain, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday praised British heroics against the Nazis to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and moved an Englishman a step closer to possible sainthood.
Benedict beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman before tens of thousands who paid about $39 to attend. The trip marked the first time pilgrims had been asked by their church to pay to see the pope.
Newman, a 19th-century Anglican convert to Catholicism, was honored at an open-air Mass in Birmingham, the spiritual highlight of Benedict’s trip. The theologian was influential in both churches, and Benedict wants to hold him up as a model for having followed his conscience despite great costs.
Benedict opened his homily by marking a very different but no less poignant commemoration for a German pope on British soil: the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when Nazi German bombers attacked Britain during World War II.
“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,’’ the pope said.
The Vatican declared Benedict’s four-day visit a “great success,’’ saying the pontiff was able to reach out to a nation wary of his message and angry at his church’s sex abuse scandal.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that the important thing wasn’t so much the turnout — crowds were much smaller than when Pope John Paul II visited in 1982 — but that Benedict’s warning about the dangers of an increasingly secularized society had been received “with profound interest’’ from Britons as a whole.