Logan County priest, deacon take part in Warriors to Lourdes healing pilgrimage

Father Jeffrey Laible of Lincoln, second from left, spiritual director for the Warriors to Lourdes program, and Father Tom Foster of Duluth, Minnesota, deputy director, visit with two of the pilgrims to Lourdes, France, on May 17. (CNS/Tamino Petelinsek courtesy Knights of Columbus)

LINCOLN — Healing comes in many ways when soldiers who have been wounded go to Lourdes.

“People may come back to the United States or wherever home is and have a physical healing. However, they might also come back with a spiritual, maybe an emotional, maybe a moral healing, where there’s been some kind of an injury to their soul,” said Father Jeffrey G. Laible, pastor of four faith communities in Logan County and spiritual director for the 2018 Warriors to Lourdes program.

A lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Air National Guard, 183rd Wing (Springfield), Father Laible has served as part of the chaplain team for Warriors to Lourdes for four years. Last year he was the deputy spiritual director.

Deacon Wendell Lowry III and his wife, Brenda, of Lincoln, visit the grotto at Lourdes to light candles and pray during the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage in May. (Provided photo)

Offered by the Archdiocese for the Military Services with support from the Knights of Columbus, Warriors to Lourdes takes place at the same time as the International Military Pilgrimage. That brought 15,000 service members from more than 35 nations to the Marian shrine at Lourdes from May 15 to 22 this year.

The theme for the 60th annual pilgrimage was “Pacem in Terris” or “Peace on Earth.

Father Laible said Warriors to Lourdes made it possible for more than 230 people from the United States to rest, pray and seek healing. The pilgrims included not only the wounded warriors but their companions, caregivers, medics, and a team of about 25 chaplains, Catholic and Protestant, active duty and retired.

Father Laible and the planners worked for much of the last year to make certain that all aspects of the Masses, the anointing service, daily faith sharing and other spiritual opportunities were as prayerfully and beautifully done as possible. That meant providing the resources the chaplains would need when they arrived.

Among them was Deacon Wendell Lowry III, who is assigned to the Logan County Catholic Community and serves as business manager there.

MOMENTS OF PEACE

While he gave a talk, served at altar and was present to the wounded warriors, Deacon Lowry registered for the pilgrimage as an injured/retired soldier. Father Laible suggested that Deacon Lowry take his wife, Brenda, so they could seek healing and have time for prayer together.

“I was in a unit that was mobilized in 2006 — an Army National Guard unit,” Deacon Lowry said. “During training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, I herniated a couple discs in my neck so I was not able to deploy with the unit, which went to Iraq.”

He said he didn’t just suffer pain, which he still feels today, but went through depression as a result.

“It was a dark time in my life,” Deacon Lowry told The Catholic Post. “I had some bad memories and thought now was a good time to perhaps go and pray for the miracle of having memories healed.”

A wounded warrior and retired Army National Guard officer himself, Deacon Wendell Lowry III (shown in foreground with his wife, Brenda) took part in the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage to find peace and healing, as well as serve on the chaplain team. (Provided photo)

He gave 27 years of service to the Army and the Army National Guard, attaining the rank of major before he retired. He also worked in financial management for the Army National Guard for 21 years.

Deacon Lowry said it was good to hear the experience of others and he found peace as he grew closer to the Lord and to his wife.

Going to the baths to be immersed in the healing waters was a memorable moment, filled with the prayers of the rosary in in English, Italian and Polish. He added that walking the Stations of the Cross and visiting the grotto at Lourdes with Brenda were also very special experiences.

The highlight for both Deacon Lowry and Father Laible was the Pentecost Mass on May 20 in the underground Basilica of St. Pius X, where the prayers were offered in many languages. “You could see the Scriptures come alive,” Father Laible said.

MOMENTS OF GRACE

Father Laible also talked about how an air traffic controllers’ strike in France just as they were putting 90 pilgrims on planes to come home became an occasion of grace and healing.

As he was saying goodbye to one of the wounded warriors, the man told him that he had wanted to talk to Father Laible but never got the chance. They exchanged phone numbers and Father Laible promised to connect with him when they returned to the United States. When the veterans could not fly out that day, Father Laible got a chance to sit down and talk with the pilgrim.

“I had some bad memories and thought now was a good time to perhaps go and pray for the miracle of having memories healed.” — Deacon Wendell Lowry III, Logan County Catholic Community

“He had three difficult deployments — one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. This is the first time he’s talked to anyone about what those experiences were like,” Father Laible said.

“So it was an incredible moment of grace, all because the air traffic controllers went on strike,” he told The Post. “How many more of those took place for our warriors at different times and different moments throughout the pilgrimage?”

People often ask Father Laible what they can do for the wounded warriors and he said the importance of prayer cannot be overemphasized. Support for international programs like Warriors to Lourdes and local efforts by the American Legion and VFW posts can help, too.

He also thanked his parishioners at Holy Family in Lincoln, St. Mary in Atlanta, St. Patrick in Elkhart and St. Thomas Aquinas in Mount Pulaski for their generosity and patience when he must be away to serve with the Illinois Air National Guard.

“They’re very gracious,” he said. “Bishop (Daniel R.) Jenky has allowed me to have this additional ministry and I’m very grateful for that.”

 

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