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Austen IvereighSeptember 14, 2009

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair has given a double-page interview to Osservatore Romano, the papal newspaper, in which he talks of his conversion to Catholicism and how faith is at the heart of his life and work. Both Osservatore and the Guardian, which reports the interview, headline Blair's amusing recollection that his Irish Protestant great-grandmother told him never to marry a Catholic.

"In one of her rare moments of lucidity, during an illness, my great-grandmother – who was in many ways fantastic – told me, 'Do whatever you want but don't marry a Catholic.' Which is exactly what I did."

It was his wife Cherie -- "extremely active", he says, in the Catholic student organizations at university, where they met -- who was the driving force behind his decision to become a Catholic two years ago, a few months after resigning as prime minister. But the decision to be received by the Catholic Church, says Blair, was the fruit of a long process:

"My spiritual journey began when I began going to Mass with my wife. And when we decided to baptize our children in the Catholic faith. It's a path which has taken 25 years, and maybe longer. Over time, emotionally, intellectually and rationally it became clear that the Catholic Church was the right home for me. But it happened after a very long period of time. When I left my political post, and no longer had all the tensions linked to being prime minister, it was something I wanted to do."

But I was interested to see that he also cites a 2003 Mass celebrated by John Paul II for the Blair family in the Pope's private chapel. "It remains even now a very vivid memory," he says, "an event which touched me deeply. Of course, very probably I was very close at that point to converting, but it was undoubtedly an important stage in the process which ultimately confirmed my decison." It seemed at the time a highly signficant event, not least because of reports (from English-speaking priests present) that Blair received Communion from the Pope -- despite being, at that moment, a member of the Church of England. (It was never denied by the Vatican.)

Blair makes clear that one of the most attractive features of the Catholic Church is its universality.

"If you are Catholic you can go anywhere in the world and take part in Mass in any country ... The fact that, wherever you are in the world, you're in communion with others, that really fascinates me. The universal Church is itself an important model of a global institution".

He says his conversion did not alter life at home:

"My three eldest children, now grown up, are practising Catholics still. We had them baptized, they went to Catholic schools -- Leo, too, is studying in a Catholic school -- and continue to be Catholic. Faith has always played a very important part in our life as a family. In that sense, therefore, my conversion didn't change things."

He goes on to lament, as he has done before, the inability of the British media to grasp the significance of faith, unlike the US, and to define his Faith Foundation as working to help the recognition of the role of faith in international public policy. He saus he "totally agrees" with Pope Benedict XVI's Caritas in veritate and describes the encyclical as "a brilliant text which deserves to be read and re-read".

There are other interesting tit bits -- but nothing, I'm relieved to see, that contradicts my conjectures about his conversion in a January 2008 America article, and quite a lot that repeats it.

His charm certainly has worked on Osservatore, which describes him as "a gentleman: educated, smiley, courteous in a way few know how to be" -- and as a future president of the European Union.

But with such strong Vatican endorsement, that's looking less likely now.

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14 years 7 months ago
One of the greatest mysteries is why he converted.It is akin to his belief that attacking Iraq was a good action.THere seems to be no good reason for his becoming a catholic apart from a desire for the prestige of the Church and the sense of higher things the English associate with converting to the forbidden fruit of Rome.
It is difficult to find one area where he actually agrees with the Church and its teachings.There is not one area in which he does not agree with the Anglican Church.The use of the word Faith in all of these interviews is bereft of anything tangible.Is life sacred?Church=yes Blair=No.Is pre-emptive war a possiblity? Church =No Blair=Yes Are Homosexual acts against the will of God? Church =Yes Blair =No.
I could state that I am a devout Marxist going by this logic.Or a pacifist could carry a gun .Could somebody find another example of there being no criteria whatsover to define what is and what is not.Is catholicism the only thing which has no real meaning?
14 years 7 months ago
David, I am also a convert to Roman Catholicsm. I did so because the Holy Spirit called me over a 25 year period. When I look at certain of the Church's positions and practices I am hard pressed to reconcile them with them with Christianity. When I look at the statements of some of the leaders in recent months, I wonder what kind of silly organization I got into. But the call of the Holy Spirit remains. The Church is at its worst when it is reduced to a checklist of doctrinal and political positions. The Church is at its best when it is the vehicle by which Christ's grace is brought into the world. As the article says, John Paul II extended Christ's grace to Tony Blair by giving him communion. Is that not enough reason, by itself, to become Catholic? To paraphase St. Paul [cf Romans 7], the rules of the Church point out our sin and offer us only death. But the grace of Jesus Christ, offered through his body and blood, transcends all of this silliness and saves.
14 years 7 months ago
Jack ,I appreciate your words and did not mean to set myself up as the judge of who is and who is not catholic.I am not in a position to do so.Nor do I seek to reduce our FAITH in Jesus to a to do list.But you did not really answer the question I posed but planted the Holy Spirit as an alibi.Can I say that the Holy Spirit of God is now present in the Chinese government or that the war in Iraq was truly the work of the Holy Spirit working through W?Surely someone ,somewhere will cry foul.To call the teachings of the church silliness is probably not good theology and I am sure even the editors of America would baulk at saying so. If all is grace ,nothing is grace as a very liberal dominican recently said.Is the grace of Christ a cheap thing ?A gown which covers all warts or does it come with a change of heart and mind?You seem to indicate that the grace of Christ or the work of the Holy Spirit is beyond  a change a case of metanoia I would hope it is not true.It is somehow beneath God to seek a clean heart.The Church is a most beautiful thing and filled with sinners who are united by the love of God but it should not be treated lightly as our salvation comes at the price of His blood.  How can we be catholic if we are not in communion with the basic teachings of the Faith?

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