The Veteran’s Way Spiritual Education Pilgrimage (VWSEP) is a spiritual retreat/pilgrimage to El Camino de Santiago that, while primarily geared toward veterans recovering from an array of military-related issues, including mental illness, combat or non-combat related trauma, family/marital problems, and other issues, is also intended for anyone who has struggled with or been afflicted by trauma or mental illness.
VWSEP is a group pilgrimage across Spain for the aforementioned individuals. The intention for this is relief, spiritual understanding, fellowship, fun, and everything in between! The pilgrimage is a nearly 500 mile journey that ends in the Northwestern part of Spain, in Santiago de Compostela. We begin our journey in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Southern France. The pilgrimage is physically demanding. One can expect to walk roughly 20 miles each day while carrying considerable weight. To exercise the body in this way is good, but the spiritual formation pilgrims undergo is of more value. This is NOT for people looking for a vacation; although, there are certainly vacation aspects to be had.
As a former infantry Marine, I know of the pain and hardship veterans undergo, and I’m deeply aware of the mental frustrations young people undergo in general. So many young people are just trying to get beyond the devastating effects of past tragedies and moral injuries caused either by combat and the gross inculturation of military life or by the own personal traumas and the craziness of contemporary culture. A transformational recovery is difficult, to put it lightly; but, in my humble experience, pilgrimage is a proven method for achieving it. Pilgrimage is like a mental and spiritual shortcut to wholeness. At the end of the pilgrimage, pilgrims receive a plenary indulgence. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.” In general, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” (cf. CCC, no. 1471). Think of a plenary indulgence by analogy: Just because you’ve served time for a felony charge and have been “forgiven,” this doesn’t entail that the effects of your charge cease following you around. If the charge hasn’t been expunged from your record, then your criminal history continues to follow you around, potentially barring you from employment. So it is with the plenary indulgence: one’s sin may be forgiven, but the effects of that sin continue to bar us from improving in the spiritual life. Pilgrimage is one way to settle your case once and for all! The grace bestowed upon pilgrims through indulgences is nothing to scoff at. Safe to say, pilgrimage has long been a way for the faithful and people of good will to merrily dispense with the past by journeying, with a full heart, toward a sacred end. There, they discover for themselves a new identity.
In 2012, I underwent a combat deployment to Sangin, Afghanistan. The night before I departed, God spoke to me with unmistakable clarity: “You call yourself a warrior yet you don’t follow my Teachings.” I knew something had to change but I didn’t understand what. Like Francis of Assisi, the prospects of knighthood were still very appealing to me, and how was I to fathom a God who did not want me to make war? The God of Zechariah’s prophetic dream (“Not by military might but by my spirit”) was the oracle of a foreign God to me for many years. In Afghanistan, I became intrigued by a symbol one of my squadmates would sometimes wear. It was the Cross of Saint James. The symbol was important to him because one of his friends had been killed in Sangin not long before we arrived and his family started a clothing line in his honor. The clothing line featured this Cross of Saint James, otherwise known as The Pilgrim’s Cross, and little did I know that for well over one thousand years, the Pilgrim’s Cross has inspired so many from so many different walks of life. I even got it tattooed on me!
In spring 2018, while on pilgrimage in Spain, God began speaking with me more directly about the Cross of Saint James. As I passed through Galicia, I rediscovered the meaning of the Pilgrim’s Cross and realized that it was more than a military memory–it was rather a special sign of predestination, beckoning myself and others toward some sacred end. Three years later, I established the VWSEP to inspire veterans and others and help them with their journey of purification from past tragedies and traumatic events, to guide them on the Way, to offer supplicational prayers on their behalf, and to help educate them spiritually, mentally, and physically. Lives change when we follow the Way, for on the Way we learn and find the Truth and the Life.
Come with me. Let’s be disciples of the Way together!
Groups are forming for the Summer 2022 pilgrimage!
Contact Brother Lance, at, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!