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Tinker doctor among wounded warriors on pilgrimage to Lourdes, France

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- For 56 years, wounded warriors around the world have flocked to Lourdes, France, with the International Military Pilgrimage to pray for peace.

Dr. Gilbert Sanders, a clinical neuropsychologist with 72nd Medical Group, and his wife, Lidia, attended this year's pilgrimage along with 101 wounded or disabled Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and disabled retirees and veterans from the United States joining with 14,000 service members from 35 nations.

"It was a wonderful experience," Dr. Sanders said. "Being there, you become truly connected with your own spirituality. It was tremendously rewarding and deepened my faith."

Lourdes is one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimage destinations in the world; however, everyone regardless of religion is welcome there.

The annual International Military Pilgrimage was founded in 1946 to promote reconciliation, peace and healing after World War II. Military representatives from four continents converge every May at Lourdes and pray for peace and healing.

The Wounded Warrior pilgrimage is sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A, and the Knights of Columbus, both having a long history of service to the military and work at Lourdes. Warriors are able to attend the week-long event free of charge, including transportation from Houston or Washington, D.C., lodging, meals and PMI credentials. A spouse or care-giver is permitted to accompany the warrior, but will be charged an all-inclusive fee. Financial assistance is available on a case by case basis.

While at Lourdes, pilgrims attend religious and spiritual activities including Mass, the Stations of the Cross and times of prayer and reflection. The Grotto where Saint Bernadette reportedly saw a vision is a favorite spot for pilgrims where the water still flows clean and pure. People are invited to take water with them, or to bathe in the waters for its healing powers.

"We saw a remarkable thing at the Grotto -- people who came with aches, pains or who just weren't feeling well, bathed in the water and the next morning they were feeling better," said Dr. Sanders. "Of course, I can't say it was a miracle or not, but those types of things were happening that you couldn't explain."

The Archdiocese sends out an announcement starting in September inviting wounded warriors to apply for the following May pilgrimage to Lourdes. Active duty or veterans from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard, and Coast Guard are welcome to apply. Those interested in attending the 2015 pilgrimage should call the Tinker Chapel at 734-2111.

"You can feel peace there. Feel a real presence," said Dr. Sanders. "There were military of different nationalities helping one another. All uniforms from other countries being united by a common core belief.

"I'm happy to see people of all nations being brought together to pray. Soldiers from nations that were fighting amongst one another not so many years ago united and were arm in arm. The spirit of peace and healing is tremendous."