The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported that former English Prime Minister Tony Blair formally coverted to the Catholic religion last Friday (12-21-07).
Blair was received into full communion by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, during Mass in the chapel at the Archbishop's house in Westminster. He had been receiving doctrinal and spiritual preparation from the cardinal's private secretary, Monsignor Mark O'Toole.
Blair deferred any formal interest in Catholicism while he was his country's Prime Minister.
According to the New York Times, aides say that Blair, who stepped down as prime minister six months ago, delayed his formal conversion until after leaving office to avoid politicizing his religious beliefs. His conversion in office would also have generated controversy because the prime minister's duties include a role in the appointment of Anglican bishops.
Tony Blair's wife, Cherie, and their four children are Catholics. Blair had made a practice of attending Mass with them, saying he did so to keep his family together on Sundays.
In 1996, the year before Blair became prime minister, Cardinal Basil Hume wrote to him asking him to stop receiving Holy Communion at a Catholic church near his home. Blair obeyed, but according to aides he wrote back to the cardinal, saying, “I wonder what Jesus would have made of it.”
One also wonders what can be made of the fact that Great Britian might become a Catholic nation?
In the United Kingdom, new research has found that services offered by the Church of England are no longer the country's most popular form of worship. The Press Association reports that Catholic churchgoers outnumber Anglicans for the first time since the Reformation.
A study conducted by Christian Research bases their findings on estimates for church attendance in 2006: 861,800 Catholics attended Mass every Sunday compared with 852,500 Anglicans worshipping weekly.
Peter Brierley, a former executive director of charity Christian Research who compiled the study, dismissed the idea that Britain is about to become a Catholic country for the first time since the Reformation in the 16th century. Brierley insisted that the Catholic Church will experience a more rapid rate of decline within two years.
Dr Brierley's study, based on figures obtained from half the 38,000 churches in England and Wales, did not, however, take into account the recent wave of Polish immigration which is likely to widen still further the gap between active members of the two denominations.
Some estimates put the number of Poles arriving in Britain at up to 100,000, 85 per cent of whom are Catholic. But he said the failure of the Government to provide accurate data on migration from Eastern Europe since 2005 made it impossible to include them in the study.
Is Blair's conversion a reflection of some deeper cultural trends at work inside England?