PRESIDENT Mary McAleese joined 500 members of the Defence Forces in Lourdes at the weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the international military pilgrimage to the Marion shrine.
The soldiers’ pilgrimage was started by French and German troops in 1958 and the weekend saw the Defence Forces join thousands of soldiers from around the world for special religious ceremonies to celebrate the jubilee in the French pilgrim town.
Soldiers from more than 20 countries attended the religious services over the past three days.
Mrs McAleese, who travelled to Lourdes with her husband, Martin, is Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces.
Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Dermot Early, the head of the EU-Chad mission, Lieutenant General Pat Nash and Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin also attended the celebrations.
At the UN peace-keeping ceremony at the Church of St Bernadette on Saturday, Mrs McAleese spoke of how Irish troops had gained respect throughout the world.
She said members of the Defence Forces, like the Irish missionaries, had put Ireland on the inter-national map, earning a reputation for first-class professionalism that was allied to a value system of profound respect for the dignity of every person.
“As we continue our participation in the military pilgrimage, we form the latest part of a long, proud tradition of Irish pilgrims” she said.
Mrs McAleese said the French and German troops who came to Lourdes after the Second World War came not as winners and losers, but as a part of a fragile humanity, appalled by war and praying for a world that would see its intrinsic evil, so that never again would nations sacrifice their youth on the altar of power and greed.
“They came here very simply to pray together in their brokenness, to pray for the gift of peace. In many parts of the world our Defence Forces have been the answer to prayers for help and for peace of heart and mind,” she said.
Mrs McAleese said they gathered again to offer thanks that peace had come at last to Ireland and to hope that the prayers of all those still living with bitter enmity and violence would bring forward a day of reconciliation that the country was now privileged to enjoy.
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