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Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes

07 Apr 2017

The International Military Pilgrimage (IMP) is an annual, multi-nation gathering of uniformed military personnel from around the world. Last year some 41 nations were represented and over 16,000 individuals took part in the activity. Throughout the history of the IMP, senior military officers at the very highest level of the Chain of Command have lent their keen support to this activity, fostering as it does a positive outlook and a genuine sense of camaraderie between soldiers, sailors and air personnel of the nations that take part.

The purposes of this item are to:

  • invite members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, together with MOD Civilians, to be members of the United Kingdom Contingent (UKC) on the 59th IMP in May 2017;
  • communicate the details of travel and funding arrangements to interested parties;
  • encourage operationally injured personnel, and the widows/widowers of those killed on operations, to be our guests.

Service personnel wear uniform throughout the period of the Pilgrimage (remaining subject to military law and discipline) while participating in a programme of international and national events. In a very real sense they act as ambassadors for their Service and their country, engaging with senior political, military and ecclesiastical figures, and as such are deemed to be on duty.

The UKC has in the past been held in high regard by all those attending the IMP, both for our bearing and turnout, as well as for our engagement with all of the activities. By arrangement with the relevant authorities, a military band is nominated to support the Pilgrimage for the purposes of accompanying the contingent in marching through the streets, as well as playing at events and services.

Background

Lourdes has been a place of pilgrimage since 1858. Today over five million people per year visit the town. The IMP, begun as an act of reconciliation in 1958 between French and German troops after WWII, is instigated each year by the French Minister of Defence and comes in the form of an invitation from the French Chief of the Defence Staff to the British Chief of the Defence Staff to engage in an act of international fraternity and celebration.

The UKC is sponsored and supported by the Bishopric of the Forces, together with each of the single Service chaplaincy services. It provides a unique opportunity to enhance the military’s prestige in the wider community by allowing the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces the opportunity to engage with others of different countries who are also called as sailors, soldiers and air personnel to serve in their varied and differing parts of the world.

In recent years, in addition to the vital defence engagement work undertaken, the importance of the moral component of our service personnel has been brought to the fore as we have increasingly involved, as pilgrims, those who have suffered operational injuries.

Logistics

The 59th IMP will take place in Lourdes, Southern France, from Thursday, 18 May to Monday, 22 May 2017 for UK based personnel, who will travel by air from Stansted on a flight chartered especially for this event.

Travel to-and-from the point of departure will be by Unit or personal arrangement. Transfers and full board accommodation within France are arranged for all pilgrims travelling with the UKC by the Pilgrimage Organiser (PO).

During our time in Lourdes some members of the UKC will be nominated to undertake duties including:

  • Wreath-laying at the War Memorial in the presence of the French Minister of Defence
  • Aiding sick and invalided Service pilgrims from the UK and other nations
  • Parading as Colour Parties
  • English-speaking parts in international ceremonies

Individuals who do not hold a British Passport, regardless of their status within the military community, should consult the PO concerning the requirement, or otherwise, for a visa. NATO Travel Orders are acceptable in some circumstances.

Religious Context

Whilst the religious context of the Pilgrimage is historically Roman Catholic, all those of other denominations, faiths, or those with no faith, are very welcome to attend. Indeed, throughout the history of the IMP more non-Catholic than Catholic Military Pilgrims have been part of the UKC, with universally positive feedback.

Finance

The cost of the IMP for UK based non-entitled personnel is £648, which includes air travel, food, accommodation, registration and administrative fees.

Serving military personnel automatically attract a service grant of a minimum of £325, reducing their contribution to no more than 50% of the total cost. RN, Army and RAF Trusts may increase this minimum amount for various needs and reasons on application. Separate Single Service arrangements are also in place for those in Phase One or Phase Two Training, and details may be obtained from the PO.

In addition, Commanding Officers’ of serving military personnel may offer grants from PRI (and Tri-Service equivalent) and Welfare Budgets, as well as Regimental (and Tri-Service equivalent) sources on application from those under their command.

Service personnel injured on operations, together with their carers, as well as spouses whose husbands or wives have died on operations, are of particular consideration and attract special funding. For Serving Personnel an initial approach to the Unit Welfare Team should be made with a view to applying, through Help for Heroes or other suitable agencies, for assistance. Non-serving personnel are also eligible for a grant from Help for Heroes, but should apply directly through the website on the application form provided. Details are available from the PO for all of these cases.

Duty Status

At Commanding Officers' discretion, those Service personnel who fall outside of all other criteria and make application to attend the IMP are eligible for Special Paid Leave (SPL) beyond Individual Leave Allowance in accordance with JSP 760 Para 2.025b and 2.026a.

Further Details

Information about this year’s IMP may be obtained from your local Roman Catholic Military Chaplain. If there is not one serving nearby please contact the PO direct. Application Forms, a separate one of which must be completed for every individual attending, will be made available upon request. Full joining instructions will be issued before the commencement of the Pilgrimage to everyone attending.

The Pilgrimage Organiser is:

Fr Nick Gosnell
Administrator of the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of the Forces
Queens Avenue, Aldershot. GU11 2BY
Tel: 01252 315042 Mob: 07775 237099
External e-mail: stmichael.stgeorge@live.co.uk