Thousands of men and women in the uniforms of more than 40 nations filled the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France for the 62nd Pèlerinage Militaire International (International Military Pilgrimage), held this past May for the first time since 2019. Among them were more than 230 United States service members, veterans, family members and companions participating in Warriors to Lourdes, a pilgrimage co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, since 2013.
In addition to taking part in the international celebration, which took place May 13-15, Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims gathered for daily Mass, prayer and fellowship as they sought healing of physical wounds, illness or moral injuries at the renowned Marian shrine. The experiences of several pilgrims are shared on the following pages.
This year, the Knights of Columbus also provided financial support for delegations from Canada and Ukraine to travel to the international pilgrimage. The Military Ordinariate of Canada was represented by Bishop Scott McCaig and Deacon David Bourrier, a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force. A 15-member Ukrainian delegation included service members and cadets, military officials, clergy with the Ukrainian Military Ordinariate and mothers of troops killed in combat since the Russian invasion of the country Feb. 24.
Citing the theme of this year’s pilgrimage — “Pacem Meam Do Vobis” (“My peace I give to you”) — Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly noted, “During this time of devastating war in Ukraine, the Knights of Columbus has been working to bring peace and comfort to Ukrainian families and military personnel. … We want to bring greater healing, unity and hope to all those affected by this tragedy.”
To this end, Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims also assembled 3,000 prayer kits for active-duty and injured Ukrainian soldiers. Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, blessed the prayer kits — including a rosary, Our Lady of Lourdes and Blessed Michael McGivney prayer cards, and a vial of holy water from Lourdes — before they were shipped to Ukraine.
For more information about Warriors to Lourdes, including how to apply for next year’s pilgrimage, visit warriorstolourdes.com.
By Andrew Fowler
U.S. ARMY SGT. Adam Farabaugh sensed imminent danger as his infantry squad set out on a mission in the Chak Valley of Afghanistan on July 7, 2011. Insurgent forces had been launching rockets at a training compound for Afghan National Army recruits, and they were tasked with disrupting the attacks.
“I had that feeling — somebody is not going to make it today,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right. But you go. That’s the hard part: Even if you don’t feel good about it, you go.”
As the soldiers made their way to the ambush point, Farabaugh noticed a boy on a cell phone.
“I told the first sergeant, ‘He’s definitely radio. He’s calling us in.’ But he said, ‘Well, we can’t do anything about it. We can’t prove that.’ It was hard over there. If you’re the soldier, you want to instill fear in the Taliban — not anybody else. But the enemy is dressed the same as everybody else.”
Farabaugh’s uneasiness soon proved justified when a grenade, thrown over a 12-foot wall, landed directly next to him. He hit the deck, attempting to protect himself from the blast, and he miraculously survived. But shrapnel pierced his pericardium — the membrane surrounding the heart — and nearly severed a spinal nerve, resulting in numbness in his right leg. The injuries ended his military career.
Farabaugh eventually regained feeling in the leg. However, his wife, Tiffany — whom he met in 2012 — has seen him struggle with the psychological and emotional effects of combat.
At the same time, Tiffany, a major in the U.S. Army Reserves, has had her own health struggles. Doctors discovered a large, yet-to-be-diagnosed mass in her brain in May 2021. For a logistics officer used to being in control, the uncertainty of her prognosis has been especially challenging.
Amid her stress and anxiety, Tiffany found herself turning more and more to the Catholic faith of her childhood. Though she had drifted from the Church as a young adult, she had never stopped believing in God or praying.
“It’s hard to be vulnerable,” she said. “The faith was what I always leaned on. I needed that back in my life.”
Tiffany, whose father is a member of the Knights of Columbus, learned about the annual Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage through a chaplain in her Soldier Recovery Unit. The prospect of finding healing and strengthening her faith enticed her to apply in December 2021.
“During the past two years I have really struggled with my faith,” she wrote in her essay applying for the pilgrimage. “My husband has had so much death surround him, and I have recently found out I have a mass in my brain. It has been a trial of faith and my husband is losing the battle.”
But the battle was far from lost, for she and Adam had another, happier reason for revisiting questions of faith: their 5-year-old son, A.J.
“Church was such a part of my life growing up,” Tiffany said. “I wanted A.J. to grow up with the same morals that I had, that Adam had.”
Adam also was baptized Catholic but had fallen away as well. Looking back, he thinks his mother’s death when he was a child played a big role in his loss of faith.
“I just didn’t understand,” Adam said. “Had my mother not passed as early as she did, I probably never would have fallen off of that path.”
Adam doesn’t want the same thing to happen to his son. “It’s wrong of me to knock A.J. off the path,” he said. “The right path is a good foundation.”
Tiffany was amazed when she was accepted to Warriors to Lourdes, and then Adam was invited to come too. They both fully embraced the pilgrimage, describing it as “diving into the deep end.” The highlights of their experience were visiting the healing baths and participating in the Marian candlelight procession. Tiffany was also touched to see Adam, who initially had been skeptical about the trip, open up to other pilgrims about his struggles. But perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of their pilgrimage were the friendships they made, particularly with Patrick and Mary Ann Kent, whom they referred to as “Hall of Famers.” Patrick, a retired Army colonel, is a member of Mount Vernon (Ohio) Council 847.
“We had questions about the Church and different things around the area, and they answered literally every one,” Tiffany said. “That was awesome. What a beautiful couple.”
The Farabaughs returned home to Ebensburg, Pa., with a new sense of purpose, feeling spiritually rejuvenated. They shared their pilgrimage stories — and water from Lourdes — with friends and family. Tiffany has been blessing herself with Lourdes water daily and praying for physical healing. They are looking forward to being active at St. Benedict Parish in Carrolltown, where A.J. is now enrolled for kindergarten at the parish school. However, there was something important to do right away.
“We both agreed that there’s really one barrier that exists in this family — Tiffany and I are both baptized and A.J. was not,” Adam said. “If we died in a car accident, we could be waiting on the other side while our son was not baptized.”
On May 24, A.J. was baptized at St. Benedict’s. With a new lease on their spiritual lives, the family hopes to strengthen their rediscovered faith.
“When you have issues that are out of your control, it doesn’t hurt to reinvent your spiritual side sooner than later,” Adam said. “It’s a new beginning.”
ANDREW FOWLER is a content producer for the Knights of Columbus Communications Department.
Rhyan Ritter served in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army sergeant in 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne). Now an officer cadet in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash., he applied for the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage at the encouragement of his chaplain. Ritter is a member of St. Martin’s University Council 16361.
"MY CHAPLAIN, who’s a Catholic priest, told me about Warriors to Lourdes and how it’s good for finding spiritual and physical healing. And I thought that this might be something that I need, coming back from Afghanistan. I think it’s the same for a lot of people.
“Coming here [to Lourdes] and being in such a sacred place, it has helped my heart open up. The entire experience has helped me see things in a different light, understand things a lot better, take that tension off my shoulders. God and Holy Mother Mary have definitely had a positive impact in the short time that I’ve been here. Lourdes has given me the strength to keep going and live more faithfully as a Catholic.
“Getting to know the delegates from the Ukrainian military has been fantastic as well. Even if we are not physically on the ground in Ukraine, fighting the war with them, we’re giving them the moral and spiritual courage to take that fight and keep their country’s sovereignty intact. When you come to a place like this, where there are so many foreign militaries, you expect to meet and have exchanges. But you don’t expect the friendships. As I said to my Ukrainian brothers last night, the friendship between the United States and Ukraine has never been stronger.”
Deacon Bradley Easterbrooks, a member of Yokosuka Council 12488 on United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, a naval base in Japan, participated in the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage just weeks before his priestly ordination in San Diego. Easterbrooks served for five years as a Navy judge advocate general before discerning a vocation to the priesthood. A co-sponsored seminarian, Easterbrooks will serve both the Diocese of San Diego and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.
“THIS IS MY second time at Warriors to Lourdes. My first time, I was a seminarian. I had just arrived that year in Rome to study at the North American College. Now, in preparation for my ordination, I have given myself to Our Lady, asking her to pray to her Son that my ministry as a priest be fruitful in everything God wants it to be. I’ve asked Mary in a special way to be a caretaker of my priesthood.
“Warriors to Lourdes is hard to describe, because it’s bigger than anything words could put together. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share prayers with members of the uniformed services from many countries, to serve those who come as wounded warriors, seeking healing through prayer, and to share fellowship with American service members, many of whom are Catholic.
“At the closing Mass, the entire underground basilica is full of service members, all in uniform and all coming together to celebrate the Eucharist. There are so many priests and bishops celebrating and so many voices raised in different languages in praise of almighty God. The smiles on the faces, the peace in the hearts of so many faithful from so many countries — it is a cultural experience to see how universal the Church is, to see the breadth and diversity of the Body of Christ. Our Lady has brought us all here.”
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