The Sovereign Order of Malta [SOM] 2023 Lourdes Pilgrimage was the 1st International Pilgrimage in France since 2019.  Nearly each and every association attended, and all of the events were at capacity.  It was clear that the world’s SOM was ready to serve again alongside your Western Association.

“The WA is truly the brave leader in Lourdes!”  exclaimed Brian Bouterie, KM, of the Phoenix Location and WA Communications Chair.  “The 2020 Pilgrimage was shuttered because of Covid.  However, the heroic Western Association led the gatherings in 2021 and 2022 when nearly all other associations stayed away.”

In recognition of the courageous service to our Malades and members, those who attended the pilgrimage in “The Covid Years” were awarded a special red & white ribbon to include on his and her uniforms.  The WA is proud to lead the world back to Lourdes this year.

The 2023 Pilgrimage was a special gathering for many additional reasons!

H.E. Fra’ John Dunlap was elected at the Council Complete of State in Rome, which was held before the official start of the pilgrimage, as the 81st Prince and Grand Master of the SOM.  His Excellency arrived in Lourdes thereafter with the Sovereign Council, and he was quite visible and approachable.  He attended many of the events and processions, and spoke at the Ribbon Ceremony for First Timers around the world.  His Excellency also attended the International Gathering hosted by the Swiss.

WA was well represented at the Council Complete of State.  Some of those who voted included H.E. Michael Kirk Grace of the Sovereign Council, WA President, H.E. Ken Olsen, KM & David Barca, KM.

Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi CS, the Special Delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta since 2020, was also available and led a meeting with the world’s chaplains and presided at the International Mass at Pius X on Sunday.

Another Cardinal from the United States, His Eminence Timothy Dolan, Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion and chief chaplain of the American Association of the Order of Malta returned as the main celebrant at the WA Grotto Mass.  Additionally, he led the candlelight procession.  Michael Jordan KM PHX and Mark Bouterie AUX PHX were selected to assist with the carrying of the Marian Statue, and Mary Keller AUX PHX and Brenda Riley VOL PHX were candle bearers.  Cardinal Dolan posted their photos with him on his own Facebook page.

Cardinal Dolan also used his unique rights as a Cardinal to welcome WA Volunteer and former Malade, Michael Anthony Guardado II, into the Catholic Faith.  “It was a joy to baptize and confirm Michael!” He bellowed.

60 Malades came as guests of the Western Association this year; a record!  The Malades and their caretakers were, needless to say, touched, moved and transformed, as usual.

Malade Greg Gilstrap AUX PHX and member of the Orange Team spoke at the final dinner about his experience in Lourdes.  He conceded that he felt the spiritual presence, and he recalled his own death-to-life experience.  “I was ‘IN peace’; as opposed ‘AT peace.’” He concluded and explained: “’AT peace’ is like being AT the pool and not IN the pool.”  Gilstrap knows that he is forever changed by experiencing the presence of Our Blessed Mother by coming to St. Bernadette’s hometown.

Mark Tiernan KM bid adieu as the Pilgrimage Director after 3 years of service.  It was an emotional goodbye as he addressed the attendees at the final dinner.  Thank you for your years of dedicated and competent service to our Order and Association.

There are many others to thank; all those on the planning and implantation team, the captains and their assistants, the Brancardiers, and most especially Pilgrimage Coordinator, Michelle Navarro!

In the end, the Western Association showed its colors as organized, prompt and courteous: the model of sons and daughters coming to visit with their Mother.