Lourdes, France, May 17, 2015 / 15:00 pm
Military service members' annual pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Lourdes can be a time of healing and peace, especially during the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services has said.
"Lourdes is a place where healing occurs. It might not be the dramatic throwing away of crutches, or breaking a cane, but there is always that interior peace when we put ourselves in our mother's hands," Archbishop Timothy Broglio told CNA May 14.
"And that's my hope, that everyone experiences that serenity and goes home enriched and strengthened with that serenity of a mother's care."
Archbishop Broglio was in Lourdes for a day for the Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage, which lasts from May 12-18. He has taken part in the pilgrimage since he became head of the U.S. military archdiocese in 2008.
The event brings together both active duty and retired American military personnel, including veterans who have been wounded while on their military tour.
The archbishop said that it was a blessing to have so many "wounded warriors" join the pilgrimage.
"If there's anything I've learned in the last seven years, it's that the people I'm privileged to serve desperately want peace," he said.
"They are the first people to pay for that, so coming here and asking Our Lady to look with love upon all of us and perhaps to bring us together… I think that's a fervent prayer that's raised on the part of all of us."
The Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage is part of the annual International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, which was established in 1946 in order to pray for global peace, healing and reconciliation after World War II. Military personnel from 35 nations gather in Lourdes in May, representing the military branches of their respective countries.
Lourdes is one of the most well-known pilgrimage destinations in the world following a series of Marian apparitions in 1858 in which the Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous.
The apparitions were approved by Pope Pius IX in 1862. Millions of pilgrims flock to the shrine each year to visit the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette, who is now a canonized saint. Pilgrims take water from a spring Bernadette dug at Mary's request. The shrine's waters have resulted in various types of healing for those who drink it or are immersed in it.
The pilgrimage for U.S. service members and veterans is organized jointly by the Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Knights of Columbus.
The pilgrimage was previously only open to active members of the military, but in recent years the pilgrimage has opened participation to retired soldiers.
Archbishop Broglio spoke of the importance of bringing the "wounded warriors" to the holy site, especially in honor of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
For the military personnel and veterans to come on such an important anniversary is "extremely significant" since they have not only paid the price for freedoms that others enjoy, but also so they can "participate in that healing process, because Lourdes is a place of healing."
"Allowing them to come here, facilitating their participation here, is a participation in that healing ministry of which the Church is very much a part and which Pope Francis has stressed very much during his pontificate," the archbishop said.
Archbishop Broglio said that the number of Americans going on the pilgrimage, which has previously drawn mainly European participants, has increased in recent years.
He credited the increase to a growing consciousness among Americans about participation in international events. He also noted an increase in welcoming attitudes on the part of other participants.
"This began as a discourse of reconciliation, so obviously the more participants you have the better prospects of reconciliation there are," the archbishop noted, explaining that the goal of the pilgrimage is to be "as universal as possible."