.- Lourdes, France is this weekend's destination for thousands of military personnel and their families who will participate in the 2010 International Military Pilgrimage. Since 1958, the Shrine has seen soldiers from all over the world come in peace to venerate Mary.
The tradition of the International Military Pilgrimage (IMP) to the French Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes began in 1958, after what was initially a regional pilgrimage and later national pilgrimage was made international to officially recognize the many NATO soldiers that had been arriving.
This year's 52nd pilgrimage takes place from May 21-23 and, according to organizers, will see nearly 12,000 pilgrims. An American outfit is represented in addition to 36 other delegations from as far away as Australia and Kenya and one formed of UN-mandated troops based in Kosovo.
Pilgrimage organizer and French military ordinary, Bishop Luc Ravel, spoke of the event saying that “the encounter brings with it the will of every military man of the world to work together for peace, the final good that we all seek. Also for a soldier, the use of weapons isn't the only way to promote peace between nations or within a people.”
“It's the conjugation of the force of weapons and the support of prayer that give the militaryman the dynamism and the openness to aim one day to achieve the good of peace,” he added, “without which the other 'goods' are reduced and eventually disappear.”
Major events planned for the three-day stay in the foothills of the French Alps, which will involve all military personnel, include a parade on Friday, adoration in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary on Saturday and Mass in the Basilica of St. Pius X on Sunday before the group formation and farewell on the esplanade. Many other activities are set to take place within the individual national representations and languages.
Vatican Radio reported on Friday that Italy had sent 4,000 soldiers to Lourdes for the occasion, while on Thursday L'Osservatore Romano made note of a 15-member Swiss Guard contingent. Many soldiers will be staying in tent camps in the mountains during the pilgrimage.