12/22/2014 08:02 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

The New Allure Of Sacred Pilgrimages


ARMY Staff Sgt. Juan Roldan was on patrol in Baghdad in 2006, when a warhead struck his vehicle, killing two colleagues. Sergeant Roldan suffered a blow to his spinal cord, a traumatic brain injury and severe damage to his legs, both of which had to be amputated above the knee. “When I first got injured, I was having nightmares, I was having anger issues,” he said. “I felt like I would have been better off dead.”

Last year, Sergeant Roldan traveled with dozens of other veterans, many in wheelchairs or hospital gurneys, from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to the town of Lourdes in southwest France. They were making a pilgrimage to the Catholic shrine to Saint Bernadette, a teenage girl who in 1858 claimed to have had multiple encounters with the Virgin Mary. At the climax of the event, Sergeant Roldan and his fellow pilgrims lined up to bathe in the town’s sacred waters.

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