Colorful uniforms from 36 different militaries swarmed Lourdes, France,
in May for the 48th Annual International Military Pilgrimage.
“The International Military Pilgrimage is unique to the world and by
its size, it is one of the most evocative events at Lourdes,” said
Pilgrimage Director Fr. Jean-Louis Théron. “Soldiers are the best
placed to speak of peace.”
The American delegation of more than 200, led by Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop,
U.S. Air Forces in Europe vice commander, accepted the French Defense
Minister’s invitation to participate in three days of international
parades, ceremonies and concerts.
“We are honored to be invited to participate in this important
pilgrimage symbolizing a continuing hope for peace,” said General
Bishop. “It’s a great privilege to have been part of this historical
event; one that has been uniting people from different nations and
cultures for decades.”
The pilgrimage saw more than 15,000 military men and women from
countries as diverse as Croatia, Burundi and the Czech Republic gather
to promote harmony in the world.
Chaplain (Capt.) Bob Monagle, RAF Alconbury chaplain, represented USAFE
chaplains and took 22 active-duty members including one Marine, one
Soldier and one Sailor to France. “The Lourdes Pilgrimage was a great
experience to get together with thousands of military members from
nations all over the world for one common purpose; to share faith and
to pray for the world,” he said. “We serve in the military
because we believe in making our world a better and safer place.
This is a great opportunity to come together to pray rather than
to fight each other.”
Every day involved vibrant expressions of candlelight processions, war
memorial wreath layings and services in the various caverns, such as
the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to an underground bunker that
housed all 15,000 military members. The event started with individual
excursions at the end of WWII and by 1958 became an official event
sponsored by the French Ministry of Defense in May each year. “It
was a packed three days,” said Maj. William Haag, Ramstein trip
organizer from USAFE/A3. “Most countries brought their color
guards and bands that all played their national folk music for the
festival of music. The best part was the exchange of culture,
stories and history between the different groups that represented
solidarity of peace.”
Airmen interested in the 2007 pilgrimage can contact their local Catholic chaplains for more details.