Rowan Williams made history as the first Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury to pray and preach at Lourdes. Lourdes is where the Virgin Mary is believed to appeared before Bernadette Sobirous, an unlettered peasant girl. Bernadette's visions since then have been officially declared worthy of belief and so Lourdes has become the best known Roman Catholic shrine in the world.
Rowan Cantuar preached
"When Mary came to Bernardette, she came at first as an anonymous figure, a beautiful lady, a mysterious 'thing', not yet identified as the Lord's spotless Mother. And Bernardette – uneducated, uninstructed in doctrine – leapt with joy, recognising that here was life, here was healing. "
By doing so, he for all intents and purposes accepted two Catholic dogmas proclaimed infallibly by the Popes, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin. These dogma are explicitly rejected by Protestants and constitute as the ecumenical stumbling blocks. The Eastern Orthodox while largely believing these teachings about Mary, never proclaimed these as dogma. These too are ecumenical difficulties for them.
Rowan's sermon can be read at his official website. I think this ecumenical sermon is one of Rowan's best. It is faithful to the infancy narrative in Luke and so ordinarily biblical.
After all Mary appeared before a very ordinary person. Her message was extraordinary. When the ordinary meets the extraordinary, our human nature finds it almost impossibly to believe. But as Rowan preaches, we can always believe in the joy that surrounds these events. In fact the joy dissapates the initial fear, since here at last is life.
For Mary and her son, life is all that matters.
Protestants have criticized Rowan for abandoning the Protestant in Anglicanism. Anglo-Catholics have praised him for declaring his Catholic views or criticized since many see this as "sucking to Rome". Williams has been criticized for his waffling stands on unCatholic issues such as gay marriage, ordination of gays and women priests. Many Anglicans and ecumenically minded Catholics have written out Rowan's archepiscopal term as the biggest flop in Anglican history.
But Anglicans have to accept that Rowan is but human. So everyone has to give him slack. Perhaps Rowan sought healing and has been healed at Lourdes.
Now Anglicans are keenly watching if he would do a Tony Blair once he retires from Canterbury.