A Pilgrimage Unlike Any Other

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5/23/2013

The Knights of Columbus and the Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes

This Memorial Day weekend, wounded and disabled American military veterans are traveling to Lourdes, France, as part of the 55th International Military Pilgrimage.

Sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Knights of Columbus, the pilgrimage is a time for healing, both spiritually and physically, in the sacred waters of the grotto and the surrounding atmosphere.

In a letter to this year’s pilgrims, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, expressed the heartfelt thanks of the 1.8 million members of the Knights of Columbus to those who have served, and expressed hope that this pilgrimage would be a meaningful time for them.

“The waters of Lourdes have been a source of refreshment and healing for the millions who have visited this holy place,” he said, “and I pray that each one of you will find at the Grotto some measure of comfort and solace.”

Also addressing the pilgrims in an introductory letter, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services expressed his wishes for the trip, saying that “we pray that these upcoming days at the ‘heart of the Church’ will bring peace of mind, health, and serenity to those who have given so much of themselves.”

The pilgrims have a weekend full of activities planned for them, including a series of Masses and ceremonies with veterans from other countries, a recitation of the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, and even a military band concert.

The Knights' sponsorship of the pilgrimage is the latest chapter in the story of their involvement in Lourdes, which first began nearly 100 years ago. During the First World War, the Knights were extremely active in serving American troops abroad and had an official Knights of Columbus Army Hut right in Lourdes itself. “The experiences of the Knights of Columbus in France have been almost as various as are the emotions of man,” a report from the period says. It continues:

The Knights have attended the soldiers in their time of trouble; they have helped them to make good use of their moments of leisure. They have knelt by their side on the battlefield, and, when no Priest was to be had, they have taken the dying lad’s last message, encouraged him in making his act of contrition, and, when all was over, they have closed his eyes. In times of military stress they have taken food to soldiers in areas which the commissary had been unable to reach; they have made merry with them in hut and in club, joined in their pastimes, found them good reading, comforted them in body and in soul.

Immediately following the end of the war, the Knights also produced a Guide to Lourdes after repeated requests from American pilgrims.

“There have been so many requests from the members of the American Expeditionary Forces for a “Guide to Lourdes,” the introduction to the booklet says, “that the Knights of Columbus feel themselves called upon to present this little volume. It has always been our desire to serve our forces in every way possible.”

But that wasn’t all. With so many American troops stationed throughout Europe, the Knights of Columbus organized the first-ever international military pilgrimage to the Marian shrine at Lourdes.

“Nothing that the boys have done,” the article says, “has given the Knights such satisfaction as has the visits of the doughboys to the shrine of Our Lady at Lourdes.”

“Some of us had come six thousand miles,” the author says, “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.”

Especially thankful to the sacrifice and service of our veterans, Knights of Columbus everywhere join with the supreme knight and the archbishop in praying for a successful and impactful pilgrimage for all those currently in France, and for all who have risked their lives for our freedom.