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Warriors to Lourdes: Veterans suffering effects of combat find peace at French shrine

WAR VETERANS AT LOURDES
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Knights of Columbus take 200 vets, including Medal of Honor winner Gary Rose, to International Military Pilgrimage.

Aside from PTSD, the phenomenon of “moral injury” is something that has been recognized relatively recently. Anglican Fr. Steven G. Rindahl, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and later became a military chaplain, defined it as “the result of some form of assault on deeply-held moral beliefs, which causes the person to question his own morality.”

“That assault could be something that that person did that he believes is outside of his moral code, or something that he witnessed or was a collective part of, even if not the direct person involved,” Fr. Rindahl said in an interview. “Most commonly it’s associated with combat. If you have the reality that soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen go into a combat environment, they followed all the rules, they followed the rules of warfare, rules of engagement, … they have no ethical culpability, but still it’s an action against how we’re designed. We’re not intended to cause destruction to other image-bearers of God. So there is an internal moral issue that’s going on [that] creates damage to the soul, that needs to be cared for.”

Rindahl, who was an instructor in the Army Medical Department Center and School in San Antonio and wrote the Army curriculum on providing the ministerial response to moral injury, went with the Knights to Lourdes to give other chaplains a seminar on the subject. He himself is inspired by the Gospel passage of the man sitting by the pool of Bethesda.

“He’s been an invalid for years, and the first question Jesus asks him is, ‘Do you want to be healed?'” Fr. Rindahl said. “So you have people who recognize that there’s something that might be wrong. It may be physical, it may be emotional, it may be mental, it may be spiritual. And they’ve reached out to say ‘I want to be healed.’ And they’re placing themselves in a position of receptivity to the blessing of healing that God has for them. That’s done through their prayers, through their participation in the sacraments.”

Gallina said that priests were available 24/7 for confession and counseling. Also, pilgrimage leaders encourage veterans to take the spiritual healing and the lessons learned at Lourdes back home with them and develop of a plan to build on them.

Rose was grateful for the opportunity. “When you physically demonstrate—and this is the important thing that a lot of these individuals that were on this pilgrimage—and they’re suffering from PTSD—you talk to them and you find out they get to this point where they think people don’t care. And this is a physical demonstration to these individuals that went, I think all of them now know that there are people that care,” the veteran Green Beret said. “The caring is expressed in such a way that they are told that their life counts. It’s as important as any other human being on this planet. Verbalizing that is important.”

The Lourdes experience, he said, “in the long term is going to help them either deal with their infirmities—some of them have damage that just can’t be repaired. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get to a point where they can have a good life, a long life and an enjoyable life. Maybe this is … one of many steps that is going to help them get there.”

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