Warriors to Lourdes Complete Pilgrimage American delegation back home after weeklong visit to shrine where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous in 1858

“Warriors to Lourdes” pilgrim clutches rosary during pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, May 16-23, 2017. Photo courtesy of the Knights of Columbus.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of 200 pilgrims largely composed of U.S. Military personnel, including the wounded, ill, and injured, along with their companions and caretakers, left France on Tuesday following a week-long “journey of healing” to the Marian grotto and springs in Lourdes during the 59th annual Pèlerinage Militaire International (PMI)—or “International Military Pilgrimage.” The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), and the Knights of Columbus (K of C) co-sponsored the “Warriors to Lourdes” contingent of the PMI, which this year drew nearly 14,000 registered pilgrims from 43 countries, including another 236 Americans from five U.S. Military chapels in Europe. Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., covered expenses for approved non-wounded, wounded, ill, or injured American warriors, and their designated caregivers, and the organization provided cut rates for companions and volunteers as well.

During the May 16-23 pilgrimage, the “Warriors to Lourdes” immersed themselves in prayer and reflection, the celebration of special Masses, and visits to the healing waters at the Sanctuary of Our Lady. The theme of this year’s pilgrimage was Dona Nobis Pacem, Latin for “Grant us peace.” In a letter to the pilgrims, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, shared his hope that the trip would allow pilgrims to be touched by peace and “serve to strengthen the cause of peace in our time.” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, in his own letter to the pilgrims, noted that the commitment and dedication of United States military men and women helps bring peace to the entire world, and he expressed his hope that this pilgrimage would be a time of peace for these peacemakers.

In a homily at the opening Mass on Friday, May 19, Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer, Archbishop Broglio’s Episcopal Vicar for Europe and Asia, observed that “[i]n today’s passage from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 15, Jesus tells us that ‘it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you—so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give you.’ And why do you think this would be so? My answer: love that is demonstrated in the life of Jesus’ mother, Mary.” Bishop Spencer invoked the words of St. Augustine to define “love,” quoting: “‘Love has hands to help others. Love has feet to hasten to the poor and to the needy. Love has eyes to see misery and want. Love has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of others.’ This is what love looks like. This is what Dona Nobis Pacem promises… Grant us peace.”

Lourdes is the site of the famous Marian shrine where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. The PMI traces its historical roots back to World War II. During the War, members of the French military visited the site of St. Bernadette’s apparitions, where they offered prayers for peace. In December of 1944, U.S. military personnel joined British, Belgian, French and Russian military representatives for a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. After the War, French soldiers and their chaplains invited German soldiers and their chaplains to gather and pray together. The purpose of this initiative was to heal memories and reconcile the past between these former adversaries by recognizing their common identity as Christians in need of peace. The first official PMI was celebrated in 1958.