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‘Grant Us Peace’


by Columbia staff

Order and U.S. Military Archdiocese co-sponsor annual pilgrimage of wounded warriors to Lourdes

Military pilgrims pray the rosary as a Marian procession

Military pilgrims pray the rosary as a Marian procession makes its way through the sanctuary grounds of Lourdes May 20. Photos by Tamino Petelinsek

Nearly 200 U.S. soldiers, veterans, designated caregivers, companions, chaplains and volunteers participated in the Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage for Non-Wounded, Wounded, Ill or Injured Military Personnel May 17-23. Cosponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, (AMS) and the Knights of Columbus, the trip took place during the 59th International Military Pilgrimage (Pèlerinage Militaire International, or PMI), which included delegations from 41 countries comprising some 13,000 military personnel in all. This year’s pilgrimage coincided with the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I.

In a letter to this year’s Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson reflected on the pilgrimage’s theme — Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant us peace).

“Jesus instructs us that ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ And so we naturally think of the brave men and women of the military who have served as instruments of peace in our modern day,” the supreme knight wrote. “And we pray that God will grant the gift of peace in our world.”

Auxiliary Bishop F. Robert Spencer of the AMS, a member of Bishop John J. Kaising Council 14223 at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, South Korea, celebrated the opening Mass for all U.S. pilgrims May 19.

“My friends, you are here because of God’s love for you,” he said in his homily. “He has taken the initiative to love you first and now simply waits for your response, perhaps during this very pilgrimage here in Lourdes.”

The Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims attended a variety of religious and spiritual events — including Masses, Stations of the Cross, Marian processions and occasions to pray the rosary — as well as colorful opening and closing ceremonies. They also had the opportunity to bathe in the waters of the Lourdes Grotto — a destination that annually draws millions of people who seek spiritual, physical or emotional healing.

A military band concert and a sports challenge provided cultural and athletic entertainment, while a wreath-laying commemoration for fallen soldiers allowed the U.S. pilgrims to join in prayer with international military personnel.

U.S. Army Special Forces 1st Sgt. Sompaul Vorapanich, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Council 15250 at Fort Bragg, N.C., participated as a trip leader.

“There are soldiers who have physical ailments, physical wounds that you can see,” he explained. “Others have wounds that are invisible to the eye, but they are still scarred mentally and have had traumatic experiences that have led them there. This event is both a spiritual healing, as well as physical and mental, and there’s no place better to do it than Lourdes.”

On May 20, Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims joined thousands of fellow PMI pilgrims in a massive candlelight Marian procession that included the singing of hymns and recitation of the rosary in different languages. Similar processions gather a multitude of faithful every night at Lourdes, but the annual PMI event is one of the largest of the year.

Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims stand outside the Basilica

Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims stand outside of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in France. Participants included nearly 50 injured veterans, as well as other military personnel, chaplains, caregivers and volunteers.

The Order’s sponsorship of the Warrior to Lourdes pilgrimage is the latest chapter in its involvement with the town, which became a haven of healing after the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, revealing herself as “the Immaculate Conception.”

During World War I, the Knights of Columbus provided social services and spiritual support to Allied servicemen of all faiths, especially through the K of C Hut program that operated under the motto “Everybody Welcome, Everything Free.” The Order established a hut in Lourdes and in 1919 organized a post-war pilgrimage to the site that attracted thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed across Europe.

The author of a contemporary report wrote, “Some of us had come 6,000 miles, but if we had come from the uppermost parts of the earth, the joy of these moments would have made the journey and the fatigue seem as nothing. The atmosphere was redolent with prayer and praise and thanksgiving.”

The overwhelming success of the 1919 pilgrimage prompted the Order to produce a pocket guide about Lourdes for future pilgrims.

Nearly a century later, the site continues to attract thousands of faithful soldiers seeking peace and healing.

“Lourdes is perfect for this type of military healing pilgrimage, which is really needed for many of our men and women of the military services,” said Sgt. Vorapanich. “The camaraderie here has been a wonderful thing, with so many different nations, and seeing the healing, whether physical or mental, has been awesome. I’ve never seen anything like this.”