RAF News

International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes

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. Support for this event has been approved by all three Service Chiefs and endorsed at MOD level, fostering as it does a positive outlook and genuine sense of camaraderie between sailors, soldiers and air personnel of all the nations represented. 

Members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, together with MOD Civilians, are invited to be members of the United Kingdom Contingent (UKC) on the 62nd IMP in May 2020.

Service personnel wear uniform throughout the period of the Pilgrimage, remaining subject to military law and discipline at all times, while participating in a programme of international and national events. In a very real sense, they act as ambassadors for the Service and their country, engaging with senior political, military and ecclesiastical figures from across the world, and are classed as being on duty for this important international defence engagement activity.

The UKC in past years has been held in high regard by all those attending the IMP, both for bearing and turnout, as well as our full participation in all the common events. By arrangement with the relevant authorities, a military Band is nominated to support the Pilgrimage effort for the purposes of accompanying the Contingent in marching through the town to designated activities, as well as playing at events and services.


Lourdes has been a place of Pilgrimage since 1858. Today, over five million people per year visit the region. The IMP began in 1958 when the French invited the Germans, following WWII, to join them in a show of reconciliation and charity. It is instigated each year by the French Chief of Defence Staff to his counterparts all over the world, asking them to join in a renewed act of international fraternity and celebration.

The UKC is sponsored by the Tri-Service Chaplaincy Board under the auspices of the Chaplain General (Army). The Bishopric of the Forces, together with each of the single Service chaplaincy services, manages support for the event. It provides a unique opportunity to enhance the military’s prestige in the wider community by allowing men and women who serve in our Armed Forces to engage with others of different countries who are called in a similar way to serve in their varied and differing parts of the world.

In addition to the vital defence engagement work undertaken on the IMP, recent years have highlighted the importance moral component of our service personnel as we have increasingly involved, as pilgrims, those who have suffered operational injuries and those who have been bereaved by the deaths of their loved ones on operations.


The 62nd IMP will take place in Lourdes, Southern France, from Thursday, 14 May to Monday, 18 May 2020 for UK based personnel who will travel by air from Stansted on a chartered flight.

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

During the Pilgrimage some members of the UKC will be nominated to undertake duties including:

  • aiding sick and invalided Service pilgrims from the UK and other nations;
  • parading as Colour Parties;
  • hosting international guests at the UK Reception and Band Marching Display;
  • forming the Guard of Honour for the wreath-laying ceremony at the town’s War Memorial in the presence of the French Minister of Defence;
  • English-speaking parts in international ceremonies;
  • providing identifiable UK national components to the international organisers as logistic support for events.

Individuals who do not hold a British or European Passport should consult the PO concerning the possible requirement to obtain a visa. NATO Travel Orders are acceptable in some cases, though with the uncertain status of the UK following BREXIT at the time of publication, further updates on this matter will be disseminated as they are known.

Faith Matters

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


The cost of the IMP for UK based non-entitled personnel is £720, including return air travel, food, accommodation, transfers in France, registration and administrative fees.

As both Regular and Reserve personnel, together with the nominated Band for whom funding has been obtained from Headquarters London District on a FINCAT 1 basis, are deemed to be on duty for this event, public funds may be used, in accordance with current regulations, to reimburse all expenses that fall within the remit and scope of such. 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.

Serving and Reserve military personnel who cannot obtain funding through public funds for whatever reason, may apply for a grant from their Single Service RC Trust, 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 in place for certain individuals in Phase One and Phase Two Training, details of which may be obtained from the PO.

Service personnel injured on operations, together with their nominated carers, as well as spouses whose husbands or wives have died on operations, are given 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, though Help for Heroes or other similar agencies, for assistance. Non-serving personnel are also eligible for such grants but should apply directly to the charity concerned. A supporting statement can be provided, on application to the PO, for all such cases.

Further Details

Information about the IMP may be obtained from your local Roman Catholic Military Chaplain. If there is not one serving nearby and your own Chaplaincy Team are unable to help you, please feel free to contact the PO direct. Application Forms, a separate one of which must be completed for each individual attending, will be made available on request. Full joining instructions will be issued before the commencement of the Pilgrimage to everyone attending.

The Pilgrimage Organiser is:

Fr Nick Gosnell

Vicar General for the Bishopric of the Forces

The Cathedral Church of St Michael & St George

Queens Avenue, Aldershot. GU11 2BY

Tel: 01252 315042   Mob: 07775 237099

E-mail: stmichael.stgeorge@live.co.uk

Using Internet Explorer 8? Please switch to using Chrome if you can.