The 54th International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes
In May I was lucky enough to attend the 54th International Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Having never been there before and after hearing stories from others who had, expectations were high and they did not disappoint.
The International Military Pilgrimage started in 1958 when the French Armed Forces invited the German military to join them in Lourdes as a gesture of post-war reconciliation. This year the military pilgrims were represented by some 34 different countries making up over 20,000. The British contingent was over 200 strong, made up from the three Services and included all ranks of which myself and 11 others from Marham attended.
At Stansted airport I got my first impression of how big the pilgrimage was as an aircraft full of members from the three Forces were en route to Lourdes. As the aircraft door opened we were welcomed with sunshine and 30 degrees heat (unlike the weather we had left behind!). On arriving at our hotel we changed into uniform and formed up for what was one of our first of many marches through Lourdes accompanied by the band.
Marching smartly through the streets, which were lined with people and other serving members from other countries all clapping as we went by, gave me a true sensation of what the pilgrimage was about and filled us full of pride to represent the military.
Each day we would attend different masses and I could not help but be affected by the true scale of the event. Although the trip is a religious event, and the religious aspects are central to the occasion and not being particularly religious myself, I did not at any time feel overwhelmed.
Attending the spectacle of the candle light procession and seeing the thousands of people visiting Lourdes was something that everyone should get a chance to see. Meeting the remarkable people from Hosanna House was a moving and very humbling experience and was very worthwhile.
The highlight of the Pilgrimage for me was being part of The Colour Party and carrying the Union Standard at the International Mass, especially so, as it was attended by His Royal Highness the Prince of Monaco.
With everyone being in uniform for the duration of the weekend, as well as the other nations, it was great to be part of the camaraderie shared between all the nations and in true military style we always found time to share stories and celebrate, while listening to music played in the streets by various bands.
Although it was my first (but hopefully not my last) Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, it was a fantastic weekend and even though hard to put into words, it was an experience that will inevitably keep me wanting to return year after year. I hope to attend the 55th pilgrimage next year.