Austen Ivereigh: Welcome Tony. About a billion of us are out here with you

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair's crossing of the Tiber is as close as Britain has come to a John F Kennedy moment when Americans laid the ghosts of history and accepted that a Catholic could be president. It is sad that Blair could never take that step while Prime Minister, partly because of the awkwardness of the established church, partly because politically Conservative Catholics would have raised a rumpus over his voting record, and partly because of the media's knee-jerk abhorrence of mixing faith and politics. The fact that they are mixed, and that politicians are driven, often, by a deep faith, is made clearer by Blair's great step last Friday night and it may help to lay our own ghosts.

It has been a long and difficult journey for him. Only last summer Pope Benedict XVI and he had what the Vatican described as a 'franco confronto' over abortion, embryonic research and the Iraq war, leading one Irish newspaper to headline a quote from the mother of the mistaken saviour in Monty Python's 'Life of Brian': "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!" Was it as a head of government or future convert that they were addressing him? It wasn't clear.

But he has made it, after many months of instruction and spiritual preparation. He was asked to assent to all magisterial teaching "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God", he told Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and the church has received him because he has satisfied them that he does so believe. Becoming Catholic is not about a person's worthiness in the sight of God on that score, we all fail but about answering a call. Deep in Blair's heart he knows the Catholic church is where he belongs. It's where he meets others for whom talk of prayer and God is natural, and where he is fed every Sunday with no less than the body of Christ. He won't stop sinning, and he won't stop being wrong. But as a Catholic, he doesn't have to apologise for the struggle; there are about a billion of us out there with him. On their behalf I'll say: Welcome, Tony. It's good to have you.

A usten Ivereigh is a former aide to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor