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placeholder  January 5, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA

Lourdes, a place of healing for wounded warriors

LOURDES, France — Military chaplains are used to hitting the road and heading where the hurt is as they tour bases, camps and veterans clinics.

But on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with wounded soldiers, a group of Catholic chaplains also found a sacred space for healing.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes "is a special place for Catholics and for anyone who has faith. It's a place where you can feel and experience prayer," said Msgr. Frank Pugliese, one of the chaplains on the pilgrimage.

"I think this is truly a field hospital" where people experience inner spiritual healing as they reconnect with God and other people of faith, said the monsignor, who is the former vicar general of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and a retired military chaplain who served the naval forces for 21 years.

In Lourdes, "The healings that happen I think are amazing, not all of them physical," he said.

"People have a sense of peace, of being loved, of being able to leave behind some of the baggage that they come with. And I think that's sometimes a more powerful healing than if someone throws away crutches," he said.

Msgr. Pugliese was one of more than a dozen Catholic chaplains who brought their unique pastoral expertise to a "Warriors to Lourdes" pilgrimage, where they accompanied about 60 retired and active duty U.S. military facing disabilities, together with family members, caregivers and support staff.

The May pilgrimage, organized by the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Knights of Columbus, offered an opportunity for prayer, healing and friendship in Lourdes — where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

The monsignor said those who struggle with physical limitations are not marginalized at Lourdes.

"So many times in our society if you're disabled, it's like, 'Get out of my way. I'm in a hurry.' Here it's a totally different experience," he said. "They're treated like they're special" and receive privileged care and attention from residents, pilgrims and hospital staff.

Physical scars and disabilities aren't the only dangers of combat. Many military men and women "are put in situations that are horrendous," presenting chaplains with an entirely different set of pastoral challenges, he said.

"I see the church, and priests, as a place of coming back to a sense of purpose" where violence doesn't define who these soldiers are. "Who they are is where they come to be at peace, like this pilgrimage," he said.

Also, witnessing so many people from different countries and cultures united under one faith and one baptism "is a powerful experience in a Christian's life," he said.

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