News

A Better Me as I Go Back Home

Posted on June 29, 2022 in: General News

A Better Me as I Go Back Home

Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims share their stories of healing and camaraderie

Officer cadet Rhyan Ritter experienced a profound spiritual transformation during the 8th annual Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage, a week-long event in the French Pyrenees sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. Not only was it a chance to rub shoulders with military personnel from dozens of countries also there on pilgrimage, but an opportunity to participate with them in the religious activities available at the Catholic pilgrimage site, renowned for its healing waters.

“Coming here and being in such a rich spiritual, sacred place has helped my heart open up and see things from a different light that helped take this tension off my shoulders,” explained Ritter, who is currently an officer cadet in the U.S. Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. “Lourdes has given me the strength to keep going and live more faithfully as a Catholic.”

A member of St. Martin’s University Council 16361 in Lacey, Wash., Ritter applied to Warriors to Lourdes at the encouragement of his military chaplain, who recognized the stress he was carrying from his time as a sergeant in the 1st Special Forces Command Airborne in Afghanistan. Since 2013, Warriors to Lourdes has annually welcomed U.S. military personnel suffering from physical injuries, as well as those suffering from mental or moral injury — an injury to a person’s conscience after an act of perceived moral transgression. This year’s pilgrimage offered Ritter a unique opportunity for spiritual renewal and a chance to recover from the invisible wounds of war.

This year, more than 200 warriors participated in spiritual and fellowship-building events including Mass at the grotto where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in the 19th century to the 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, a visit to the famous healing baths, a Unified Sports Challenge and a Marian candlelight procession. Additionally, the warriors learned about the impacts of moral injury and were encouraged to share their experiences with each other in breakout sessions called “Faith & Fellowship.”

The pilgrimage occurred in conjunction with the 62nd annual International Military Pilgrimage (Pèlerinage Militaire International or PMI), which hosted more than 10,000 military personnel from 40 nations. The theme for this year’s PMI was Pacem Meam Do Vobis — “My peace I give unto you.”

For Ritter, one of the especially impressive moments of the PMI was the opening ceremony, where the colors of every visiting nation processed into the Basilica of St. Pius X, a massive underground church nearly the size of a football field.

The U.S. Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims were joined by a delegation of Ukrainian soldiers who were able to make the pilgrimage through K of C financial support. When the Ukrainian soldiers marched in the opening ceremony, participants erupted in applause, louder than for any other nation. It was during this ceremony Ritter befriended several of his fellow Ukrainian brothers and sisters in arms.

“When you come to a place like this, where there are so many foreign armies and allies involved, you expect that you would meet and exchange with them, but you never really are ready for the friendships and that experience you build with them,” Ritter explained. “Even if we’re not physically on the ground in Ukraine, fighting the war with them, we’re giving them the moral and the spiritual courage to take that fight and keep their country’s sovereignty intact.”

The American and Ukrainian Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims together assembled 3,000 prayer kits that will be shipped to Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the front lines. Each kit includes a rosary, Our Lady of Lourdes and Blessed Michael McGivney prayer cards, and holy water from Lourdes.

Ritter said he was grateful for the camaraderie and friendships he made with “all the foreign armies over here and mainly these fine Ukrainian soldiers.” Yet it was an interior sense of healing and hope that he will take with him going forward.

“The struggles and worries that I've had will be left behind here — they won’t be something I’ll be taking back with me,” he said. “My family and friends will have a better me as I go back home.”

***

Officer cadet Rhyan Ritter was one of 200 pilgrims who had the opportunity to experience healing this year during Warriors to Lourdes. The following are brief testimonials from some of Ritter’s fellow pilgrims.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Siwen Cremean

Cremean discovered Lourdes after watching a documentary. Seeing how others in the armed forces found physical and spiritual healing there, she immediately recognized that she needed to go since she had been suffering with her own injuries. Witnessing the PMI’s Opening Ceremony combined with her fellow pilgrims’ shared Christian identity were highlights of her pilgrimage, she said. But the most impactful aspect of her trip was the friendship she formed with her roommate:

“I almost feel that it was a sign from God. It was meant to be,” Cremean said. “She and I have so much to talk about: faith, our shared identity in the Marine Corps, and where we are in life. We have a lot to offer each other. I hope to continue having a relationship with her for years to come.”

Deacon Bradley Easterbrooks

Deacon Easterbrooks was baptized Catholic, but raised in a Protestant household. He began to rediscover the faith while attending Boston College, which planted the seed that sparked his later reversion to Catholicism and vocation to become a U.S. Navy chaplain. A transitional deacon, he will soon be ordained to the priesthood. This year was the second time he has participated in Warriors to Lourdes.

“Warriors to Lourdes is hard to describe, because it’s bigger than anything words could put together,” he said. “If you come, you’ll see just how many people are here to celebrate with you — the smiles on their faces, the peace in the hearts of so many faithful from so many countries, and the cultural experience of seeing how universal our Church is. Our Church is a universal Church with believers in every country. Lourdes brings that all together, because Our Lady has brought us all here.”

U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Lance Adair

Seeking to go on a spiritual journey with fellow members of the armed forces, Adair attended Warriors to Lourdes after learning about it from his wife, Rosli, a member of the U.S. National Guard. What particularly struck him about the pilgrimage was seeing military personnel from around the world peacefully joining together.

“With everything going on with the world right now, a lot of things are felt more over here in Europe, and it’s good to see that perspective,” Adair said. “But then, also being able to see the fellowship and the camaraderie here lift spirits up. It’s important for all these nations to keep doing this to maintain that tradition of coming together for peace.”


Categories