The Prince of Wales has praised Cardinal John Henry Newman on the eve of his canonisation, saying the example set by the revered 19th century theologian, priest and writer is “needed more than ever”.

Charles, who will lead the UK’s representation when Pope Francis declares the cardinal a saint in Rome on Sunday, said the cardinal had left a “lasting legacy'” as an educator, and the Catholic community owed “an incalculable debt to his tireless work”.

The way the theologian had stood up for his “convictions” – famously shocking Victorian society by converting to Catholicism – still resonated today in light of the persecution various groups and individuals faced because of their beliefs, the prince suggested.

Charles’ comments came in an article for the website of the daily newspaper of the Vatican city state, L’Osservatore Romano.

He said: “In the age when he lived, Newman stood for the life of the spirit against the forces that would debase human dignity and human destiny.

“In the age in which he attains sainthood, his example is needed more than ever – for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.”

Charles goes on to say: “Those who seek the divine in what can seem like an increasingly hostile intellectual environment find in him a powerful ally who championed the individual conscience against an overwhelming relativism.

“And perhaps most relevantly of all at this time, when we have witnessed too many grievous assaults by the forces of intolerance on communities and individuals, including many Catholics, because of their beliefs, he is a figure who stood for his convictions despite the disadvantages of belonging to a religion whose adherents were denied full participation in public life.

“Through the whole process of Catholic emancipation and the restoration of the Catholic Church hierarchy, he was the leader his people, his church and his times needed.”

London-born Cardinal Newman, who died in England in 1890 aged 89, had been hailed by former Pope Benedict XVI as a model for ecumenism.

An Anglican priest, he renounced an illustrious academic career at Oxford University to convert to Catholicism in 1845, convinced that the truth he sought could no longer be found in the Church of England.

The cardinal went on to found the Oratory at Birmingham in 1848 and through his writings spoke to many about the issues of faith, education and conscience.

By the end of his life he had helped make Catholicism acceptable to the British establishment.

Charles wrote: “The Catholic community in Britain today owes an incalculable debt to his tireless work, even as British society has cause for gratitude to that community for its immeasurably valuable contribution to our country’s life.”

The article, which has the headline “John Henry Newman: The harmony of difference”, will also be featured on the front page of the Vatican newspaper which is published on Sunday.

Writing about the cardinal, Charles says: “His example has left a lasting legacy. As an educator, his work was profoundly influential in Oxford, Dublin and beyond, while his treatise, The Idea of a University, remains a defining text to this day.

“His often overlooked labours on behalf of children’s education are testimony to his commitment to ensuring those of all backgrounds shared the opportunities learning can bring.

“As an Anglican, he guided that church back to its Catholic roots, and as a Catholic he was ready to learn from the Anglican tradition, such as in his promoting the role of the laity.

“He gave the Catholic Church renewed confidence as it re-established itself in a land in which it had once been uprooted.”

The canonisation of the influential 19th century figure has been hailed by Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, as an important moment in the UK’s relationship with the Vatican.

The last UK individual to be made a saint was John Ogilvie, the 17th century Scottish martyr, canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1976.

He also declared the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, executed under Reformation laws in the 16th and 17th centuries, saints in 1970.

The two people who have said they were cured after praying to Cardinal Newman will be among the congregation in St Peter’s Square for the ceremony, as will Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of Roman Catholic church in England and Wales.

A delegation from the Church of England, led by the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Reverend Christopher Foster, will also be present, as will a group of parliamentarians and other dignitaries from the UK.