A journey of pain and healing: one US Marine's prayer at Lourdes

By Elise Harris

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American soldiers at a military ceremony at the WWI War Memorial in Lourdes, France on May 16, 2015. Credit: Elise Harris/CNA.

After nearly losing his life in combat nine years ago, retired U.S. Marine Paul McQuigg journeyed to Lourdes with his wife and son this month to pray for healing and restoration from chronically painful injuries.

“We would like to see a healing of Paul in general. We all came to support him…He lives in chronic pain, and since seeing that healing from Jesus himself I know that this holy place can restore him and take him home without that pain,” Holly McQuigg told EWTN News May 16.

Before coming on the pilgrimage, Holly said the family had gone to several healing Masses and was saying daily prayers centered on Jesus’ healing of a deaf, mute man in Mark 7:35. She said they focused on that verse since most of her husband’s injuries were to the jaw and tongue.

“So that’s really what I’m hoping for; I’m hoping for restoration, I’m hoping for healing (with) just that faith of a mustard seed, which isn’t very much, so I know I can count on the Lord to fulfill that.”

Lourdes is one of the most well-known pilgrimage destinations in the world following a series of Marian apparitions in 1858 in which the Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous.

The apparitions were approved by Pope Pius IX in 1862. Millions of pilgrims flock to the shrine each year to visit the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette, who is now a canonized saint. Pilgrims take water from a spring Bernadette dug at Mary’s request. The shrine’s waters have resulted in various types of healing for those who drink it or are immersed in it.

Currently living in Oceanside, California, Paul McQuigg spent more than 15 years in the U.S. Marine Corps before being forced to retire when he was severely injured in Iraq.

After participating in two combat deployments that took him to 20 countries all over the world, Paul nearly lost his life in combat while leading a troop of Marines on tour in Iraq in 2006.

Although he survived, Paul sustained several serious injuries, including a shattered jaw, neurological damage to his left arm and leg, partial vision loss in his right eye and a traumatic brain injury. More than 60 percent of his tongue was amputated, and he continues to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Paul said he’s been able to overcome his injuries and walk the path of recovery thanks to his faith in God and the support of his family.

Despite the chronic pain he continues to endure, the Marine said that he was glad it was him that was wounded rather than one of the men he was leading in combat.

“I really enjoyed my time in the Marine Corps. If I had to do it all over again I would, (but) I would not have wanted to have them go through what I did.”

McQuigg was one of many “Wounded Warriors” in Lourdes for the May 12-18 Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage. He was joined by his wife Holly and their son Sebastian.

The event brought together both active duty and retired American military personnel, including veterans who had been wounded while on their military tour.

The gathering was part of the annual International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, which was established in 1946 to pray for global peace, healing and reconciliation after World War II. Military personnel from 35 nations gather in Lourdes each May, representing the military branches of their respective countries.

The pilgrimage for U.S. service members and veterans is organized jointly by the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Knights of Columbus. Previously only open to active members of the military, the event has opened participation to retired soldiers the past few years.

Himself a fourth degree member of the Knights of Columbus, McQuigg said that he was grateful to be participating in the pilgrimage, since “not a lot of people in my position in the retired military that have the opportunity to come to a spiritual place like Lourdes and have an opportunity to witness what goes on here.”
 
“We're all looking for healing in one way or another, every human is. Whether it be physical, mental, spiritual healing, we're all in need of that,” he said, so coming as a family “brings us closer together.”

One of the highlights of the trip was going to the baths with his son. In addition to being proud of Sebastian – who helped other wounded veterans in and out of the baths – the marine said that his own experience was “very moving.”

At the Lourdes’ baths, volunteers are present to assist pilgrims, particularly the sick and disabled, and to help keep the environment prayerful.

Paul recounted his experience as prayerful and communal. Although the water was cold at first, he said the thought of it soon faded, and that he became focused on prayer. He noted how he was joined by the volunteers in praying a Hail Mary and an Our Father before getting out.

“You feel in union with those men and the Blessed Mother, and the reason you’re there. You’re not there for any other reason than to celebrate and to seek the Blessed Mother’s help…and then you walk out and you feel fulfilled. It gives you a brighter outlook on life,” he said.

Holly said her husband’s pain level had gone down since going to the baths, and expressed hope that it would continue to decrease.

Paul said several other men in the baths were moved to tears by the experience. He recalled how an American volunteer living in Lourdes was particularly struck at seeing so many wounded soldiers come from his home country.

Both he and the other “wounded warriors” present have not only paid the price for the freedom of their own countrymen, but for the whole world, Paul explained.

The experience of healing in the pilgrimage is important for all military men who come “feeling that they’ve done what they were called to do, and that is to go forth and protect people that are in their lives,” he said.

“They don’t ask for anything in return, they just go out there in selflessness…what we’re asked to do by the Lord and Jesus Christ is to give ourselves willingly for others.”


 

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