BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury. Dr Rowan Williams, has become the first Primate of the Church of England to accept visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes as historical fact.
In a homily at an international Mass in Lourdes on the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham last week, Dr Williams implied that he believed18 visions of Our Lady experienced by St Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 were true. "When Mary came to Bernadette, she came at first as an anonymous figure, a beautiful lady, a mysterious 'thing', not yet identified as the Lord's spotless mother," he said.
"And Bernadette, uneducated, uninstructed in doctrine, leapt with joy, recognising that here was life, here was healing. Only bit by bit does Bernadette find the words to let the world know: only bit by bit, we might say, does she discover how to listen to the Lady and echo what she has to tell us."
He also praised the lives of the saints as examples who "matter so much".
Dr Williams was later severely criticised by the Protestant Truth Society, a group of Anglicans and nonconformists committed to upholding the ideals of the Protestant Reformation.
The Rev Jeremy Brooks. a spokesman, said: "Lourdes represents everything about Roman Catholicism that the Protestant Reformation rejected, including apparitions, mariolatry and the veneration of saints.
"When our country is crying out for clear biblical leadership, it is nothing short of tragic that our supposedly Protestant archbishop is behaving as little more than a papal puppet:.
Dr Williams was invited to the shrine by Bishop Jacques of Tarbes and Lourdes. His visit was the first by an Archbishop of Canterbury. He is regarded as the most Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury since Archbishop Michael Ramsey. who held the office from 1961 to 1974 and who, with Pope Paul VI, established formal dialogue between Catholic and Anglican leaders.
Cardinal Kasper's homily: Page 4 CNS Editorial comment: Page 11