Veterans found 'life-changing,' 'healing' experience at Lourdes

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tamino Petelinsek, courtesy Knights of Columbus

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

Veterans taking part in the 2018
Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage to France said the journey has positively influenced
their lives and benefited those around them.

Maj. Jeremy Haynes, a first-time
spiritual pilgrim and Lourdes visitor, said he is a changed man since visiting
the shrine, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in a series of visions in 1858.

“The trip has been life-changing
for my wife and me,” Haynes told Catholic News Service. “With faith
as our compass, we remain committed to moving forward.”

Haynes was shot four times in
Afghanistan and sustained injuries that have left him struggling to overcome
the physical constraints of paralysis. It has been a difficult journey. He also
seeks healing for wounds in his family life that occurred prior to his physical

“With a minimum emphasis on
faith, my family life was a disaster and divorce was imminent. After being shot
multiple times, I recall sinking into a dark place,” said Haynes. “Despite
being a sinner, God showed mercy by sparing my life and allowing me to witness
the birth of my son. Taking part in this spiritual journey has cleansed my soul
and created a stronger connection with my wife.”

Haynes previously served within
the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 82nd Airborne Division, and the
American Red Cross national headquarters. He commanded a parachute rigger
company, served as an aide de camp, and taught at the Army Logistics
University. He is currently assigned to the Walter Reed National Medical Center
and soon will retire from the military. He has been awarded the Purple Heart,
Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Combat Action Badge,
Jumpmaster, Parachute Rigger Badge and Air Assault Badge.

Haynes, who went on the Lourdes
trip to seek healing “mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally,”
said he was honored to visit Lourdes with military from around the world. The
Warriors to Lourdes trip — sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Knights of Columbus — occurred in late May, during the 60th annual International Military
Pilgrimage to the Marian shrine in France.

“We broke bread together,
worshipped together, and promoted peace together. Although we speak different
languages, faith connected us,” Haynes said. “I experienced the power
of prayer as being a universal language that led me to encounter awesome

The Rev. Steven Rindahl, an Anglican priest and U.S.
Army veteran, took part in the pilgrimage and said he believed the journey
benefited all who participated in it.

“There have been people who
have been touched in so many different ways. It would be difficult to make a
list to encompass all the different blessings people have received while they’ve
been here,” said Rev. Rindahl, a retired U.S. Army chaplain who has served
in duty stations in many states, including Texas, New York and Georgia.

Rev. Rindahl, who has ministered
to active-duty soldiers and veterans, has worked with veterans afflicted by post-traumatic
stress disorder as an “extensive piece” of his total ministry. In
addition to emotional stress, people exposed to combat often suffer from a
condition he refers to as “moral injury,” which he describes as a
conflicted conscience resulting from complex or traumatic wartime experiences.

“War is an unnatural thing.
They get this sense of guilt or shame,” said Rev. Rindahl, who believes
this condition can be treated successfully with a faith response, particularly
the sacrament of reconciliation.

“The great thing about
Lourdes is that it is a known place for healing. Regardless of what your injury
is — whether it’s physical, emotional or damage to your soul — when a person
says, ‘I want to go to Lourdes,’ they’re going specifically with a heart and
mind open to receiving God’s grace and what God has in store for them,”
said Rev. Rindahl.

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary M.
Rose said the 2018 Lourdes journey helped a friend recently suffering from
severe PTSD connected with “a very bad, horrible battle” that
happened in 1966. Rose said there has been a “noticeable improvement in
his demeanor” since their return.

“Every single person that I
know that went on that trip has come back much better than they were when they
left for Lourdes,” said Rose, a Catholic. “Even me — I feel a lot
better. My outlook is far better than it was a week or 10 days ago.”

Rose said while visiting the
shrine he was often asked by others whether he believed the Mary was present.

“I got asked, ‘Do you think
Mary is here?’ I don’t know. I can’t personally say, ‘Mary is here,” said
Rose. “But I can personally say that there is some entity in the Lourdes
shrine area that spreads nothing but good and seems to improve the demeanor and
the psychological aspects of everybody that I associated with that went to
Lourdes with me last week.”

Haynes said he is extremely
grateful to all those who sponsored the opportunity and who volunteered at it
— and also expressed a special thanks to organizers for allowing his wife to
take part in the journey with him.

“Thank you for equipping me
with the tools to become a better God-fearing man, husband, father, and
citizen,” said Haynes.

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Fletcher is a correspondent for
Catholic News Service.

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