More than 500 active-duty and retired U.S. military personnel, injured veterans, spouses and family members participated in the 55th International Military Pilgrimage to the Catholic shrine at Lourdes, France, May 24-26, 2013. Approximately 160 participants were part of a “Wounded and Disabled Veteran Pilgrimage” program cosponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for Military Services.
The Memorial Day weekend pilgrimage included members of military from of 35 nations. The trip was an occasion for rest, prayer and healing around the miraculous waters of the Lourdes grotto. The shrine is site of a reported Feb. 11, 1858 apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a 14-year-old peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous. Water from a spring at the apparition site has resulted in many documented yet inexplicable physical cures.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Military Services (AMS) was the principal celebrant and homilist May 24 at the opening Mass for the American contingent in the Shrine’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
“Our pilgrimage in these days is also a time for us to deepen our faith,” he said. “We come to this wonderful Shrine with many intentions. For some it will be health of mind and body. For others it might be part of a vocation search. Still others ask the Virgin for blessings on their families. We come to this sacred place and pray for all of those deployed in harm’s way and we beg Our Mother to intercede with her Son so that the world might experience that peace that only He can bring.”
The AMS was created as an independent archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985 as the only Catholic jurisdiction responsible for endorsing and granting faculties for priests to serve as chaplains in the U.S. military establishments. AMS-endorsed priests serve as chaplains at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, as well as 153 Veterans Administration medical centers throughout the nation. The AMS service population also includes American Catholic civilians working for the federal government in 134 countries. Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on the AMS to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson joined the pilgrims in France. The Knights of Columbus has partnered with the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) regularly in support of such initiatives.
“The Knights of Columbus organized its first military pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1919,” Anderson said, “and we were honored to return to this important Marian shrine supporting this pilgrimage of faith by our active duty and retired troops who have sacrificed so much for our country. The great love that these service men and women have for God and country sets a wonderful example for all of us who have benefited from their sacrifices in the protection of our freedom.”
Many of the first members of the Knights of Columbus were Civil War veterans, and the Knights has long been committed to helping those who serve our country. In World War I, the K of C ran hospitality centers for U.S. troops throughout the United States and Europe under the banner “Everybody Welcome, Everything Free.” In World War II, the Knights of Columbus in Canada continued the army hut program, while in the United States, Supreme Knight Matthews served as a Catholic representative on the board of the United Service Organizations (more commonly known as the USO), through which the Knights continued to serve troops. Today, the K of C works closely with the AMS in its continuing work for our troops and veterans with a variety of activities geared toward their spiritual and temporal needs.
The K of C’s sponsorship of the pilgrimage is the latest chapter in the story of their involvement in Lourdes, which began nearly 100 years ago. During World War I, Knights were extremely active in serving American troops abroad and had an official Army hut right in Lourdes itself. Immediately following the war, the K of C produced a guide to Lourdes after repeated requests from American pilgrims.
Today, the K of C works closely with the AMS in its continuing work for our troops and veterans with a variety of activities geared toward their spiritual and temporal needs. Always a strong force for charity, last year alone Knights set new charitable records donating more than $158 million and 70 million hours to charitable causes.
The theme of the 55th International Military Pilgrimage was “Lourdes: A Door to Faith in the Year of Faith.” Pilgrims, uniformed military personnel from around the world, joined in Masses, Eucharistic adoration and prayer devotions. The narrow streets of Lourdes were filled with the sounds military bands during the processions. There was a sincere and natural sense of fraternity among the soldiers, who exchanged stories and laughter.
The pilgrimage’s May 26 closing Mass drew more than 20,000 pilgrims to the shrine underground Basilica of St. Pius X.