London - The beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Victorian England's most famous Anglican convert to Catholicism, has been described by the Vatican as a "positive moment" for relations between the two churches.

The ceremony, conducted by Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham Sunday, will bring Newman a step closer to becoming the first non-martyred English saint since before the Reformation.

For Benedict, it is the first beatification of his papacy.

Newman was born in London in 1801, the eldest son of a banker and a mother of Huguenot descent. Baptised in the Church of England, he became a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and was ordained as an Anglican vicar in 1825.

From 1833 Newman was leader of the Oxford Movement, an intellectual grouping which viewed Anglicanism as a branch of Catholicism.

In 1845, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and ordained as a Catholic priest in Rome in 1847.

When Newman died 1890, the streets in Birmingham, where he had worked with the sick and poor, were lined by tens of thousands of people.

As one of the leading intellectuals and thinkers of his time, Newman believed that, in Christianity, dogma and experience, heart and mind, should come together.

His writings and teaching are believed to have had a profound influence on Benedict XVI, the German-born pope and leading theologian.

The path to Newman's beatification was cleared last year when the Vatican approved the cure of Jack Sullivan, a US deacon, from an agonising spinal disorder as a miracle.

A second miracle is required for Cardinal Newman to be canonised, or become a saint.

Newman's "insights into the relationship between faith and reason" remained relevant for civilized society today, the pope said.