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IWKnights Corner for February 26, 2023

First Sunday of Lent

Did you know this about the IW Knights of Columbus? 

Officer cadet Rhyan Ritter stands together with two Ukrainian soldiers during the 8th annual Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage. Photo bySpirit Juice Studios.

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 K of C 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.’’’

A link to the above article can be found in the KofC.org – or on IWKnights9981.com/bulletin, on facebook.com/IWknights9981, and on Twitter at twitter.com/IwKnights or by contacting Rob Schultz at (314) 973-2373.

‘A Better Me as I Go Back Home’

Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims share their stories of healing and camaraderie

  By Knights of Columbus Press Release (5/16/2022)
   Click here to read the article 

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