Thousands of people have witnessed the Pope’s beatification of 19th Century theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman, as his UK state visit draws to a close.

The pontiff told more than 50,000 people at a Mass in Birmingham’s Cofton Park that they were celebrating the cardinal’s “outstanding holiness”.

He paid tribute to his insights into the vital place of “religion in civilised society”.

The beatification brings the cardinal one step closer to becoming a saint.

David Cameron will later thank the Pope for making people “sit up and think”.

A loud cheer followed the beatification, which was the first by Pope Benedict XVI himself.

After the Mass in Cofton Park, the Pope will meet men studying for the priesthood, before returning to Rome.

‘Auspicious’ day

In his homily, the pontiff marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain by paying tribute to the those who sacrificed their lives resisting the “evil ideology” of the Nazi regime.

The German-born Pope, who was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a 14-year-old schoolboy, told listeners: “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.”

And, paying tribute to Cardinal Newman, the pontiff said the beatification was an “auspicious” day.

“His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance to Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world,” he said.

The Pope said it was fitting that thousands had gathered to celebrate the “outstanding holiness or this much loved father of souls”.

BBC correspondent James Robbins said Cardinal Newman’s beatification sets him firmly on the road to sainthood.

Rain has fallen steadily on the thousands of pilgrims at Cofton Park who gathered for the open Mass.

Many armed with folding chairs and dressed in waterproofs trudged past souvenir scarf and flag sellers to get into the park in advance of the Mass.

Anglican convert Nina Watson, 52, from Streatham, south London said she had left home in the early hours to embark on a coach trip to Birmingham.

She said the Pope had been “wonderful and inspiring” during his UK visit.

“He is so clear, and he talks about love and finding God. He has been absolutely wonderful,” she said.

Frances McHugh, 67, a retired secretary from Shirley, Birmingham, and a parishioner at Our Lady of the Wayside Church described the pontiff as “a very holy man”, adding that “it is lovely to see him in this country”.

“We have not had to go to see him in Rome, he has come to see us,” she said.

‘Aggressive secularism’

During the trip, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out about what he called the “marginalisation” of Christianity and the march of “aggressive secularism”.

Speaking in Birmingham later on Sunday, Mr Cameron will tell the Pope: “Faith is part of the fabric of our country.

“It always has been and it always will be.”

Mr Cameron will say that people did not have to share a faith to see the value of the “searching questions” that the Pope had posed about “society and how we treat ourselves and each other”.

“You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing,” he will say.

“Because I believe we can all share in your message of working for the common good… and that we all have a social obligation to each other, to our families and our communities.”

Thousands marched in London on Saturday to protest against the Pope’s visit.

Campaign group Protest the Pope estimated around 20,000 people took part; however, police were unable to confirm this figure.

Later, the Pope will pay a visit the Catholic Seminary of Oscott, which struggles to find sufficient recruits to train as future priests.

And he will end his state visit with an address to the Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales, when he is expected to refer again to the abuse of children – an issue which has run through his trip to Britain.

Speaking on Saturday during a Mass at Westminster Cathedral, Pope Benedict expressed his “deep sorrow” for the “unspeakable crimes” of child abuse within the Catholic Church.

The pontiff also held a private 30-minute meeting at the Vatican ambassador’s home in Wimbledon with five abuse survivors, three of whom were from Yorkshire, one from London and another from Scotland.

Meanwhile, six men who were being held in connection with an alleged threat to the Pope’s visit were released without charge.

Source: BBC