Canadian delegation visits Lourdes for International Military Pilgrimage

CAF members in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Lourdes, France
Canadian Armed Forces members from CFB Valcartier, including Captain Véronique Jacques (left) and Corporal Marylène Bouchard (third from left), in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Lourdes, France. Photo: Adsum

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By Édouard Dufour – Adsum

Ninety Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members, accompanied by padres, took part in the International Military Pilgrimage (IMP) to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France, from May 18 to 20.

Captain Véronique Jacques and Corporal Marylène Bouchard were part of the Canadian delegation to Lourdes. The trip helped Cpl Bouchard move toward a state of “calm and peace” after she had been through a very difficult period: in the fall of 2015, her niece, Audrey Carey, was murdered while on a trip to San Francisco, California. Mutual assistance, solidarity and an absence of prejudice and barriers prevailed among the pilgrims, Cpl Bouchard said.

Padre Jean-Guy Morin accompanied the six CAF members from CFB Valcartier who were selected to travel to Lourdes. His role was to listen and to provide a reassuring presence for the participants, who are living with physical or psychological injuries. Major Morin explained that they were able to purify themselves through prayer and by bathing in water from the original spring of Lourdes. They also had the opportunity to walk a mountainside Stations of the Cross, and several masses were celebrated to further the participants’ respective spiritual journeys. The padre noted that such “moments of prayer, introspection and quiet reflection” guide many people along their spiritual paths.

Capt Jacques and Cpl Bouchard called their time in Lourdes “a unique experience.” They both have fond memories of the activities and the sense of closeness with the delegations from other countries, as well as the friendly sporting competitions such as the Défi des blessés-valides (a challenge for able casualties). The event, which was held in the field in front of the sanctuary, posed a series of physical challenges. One involved the athletes pushing a scooter with a disabled person seated on it. This inclusive approach helps change the way people look at disabilities by giving everyone, including the injured, a chance to score points and share in the victory.

The torchlight walk to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary made a strong impression on Capt Jacques and Cpl Bouchard. Thousands of military personnel took part, candles in hand, while civilians gathered along the route and applauded. Cpl Bouchard found the show of unity and fraternity very moving: “I had goosebumps!” The members of the Canadian delegation stayed with the delegates from Croatia and Côte d’Ivoire and enjoyed interacting with them.

The International Military Pilgrimage originated with a visit to Lourdes in 1945 by European veterans of the Second World War who travelled there to give thanks, pray for peace and promote reconciliation between France and Germany. In 1958, other countries that wanted to work toward peace also began participating in the pilgrimage. Since then, the IMP’s goals have been to reinforce fraternity between people of different nations, broaden the practice of praying for peace, strengthen the role of spirituality in all armed forces, and care for the injured in a spirit of fellowship.

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