Bereaved Father Finds Path of Faith in Lourdes
Five years after losing his son to an overdose of Fentanyl, Frederick Hink’s recent pilgrimage with the Knights of Columbus’ Warriors to Lourdes helped him restore his bond with God.
There are some trials so unspeakably painful that they can shake the most vibrant and profound faith. Frederick Hink, a staff sergeant serving in the U.S. Army for 20 years, definitely underwent such a trial. In July 2017, he and his wife, Karla, lost their beloved 22-year-old son, Jonathan, to an overdose of Fentanyl.
A practicing Catholic who raised his four children to have faith, Hink instantly lost all taste for life and shut himself up, gradually losing all contact with the surrounding world, including with his closest friends. Indeed, who could understand what he and his wife were going through? The certainty he had that putting all his trust in God would spare him the great misfortunes of life vanished — and with it his authentic faith.
Five years passed, during which Hink drowned his sorrows in work and daily chores to try to survive the wound that was eating away at him from the inside. He gradually turned away from any religious practice. “When you go to church, they tell you that the most important thing is to have a relationship with God, and everybody’s happy. But when this tragedy struck me, I didn’t feel like anything on the earth was real. I told myself, ‘Well, all I have left is a relationship with God,’ but I didn’t really like it,” Hink said in a June 9 interview with the Register after returning from Lourdes, France, where he participated in the eighth-annual “Warriors to Lourdes” pilgrimage from May 10 to 16 at the shrine in southwestern France.
Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus in partnership with the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage helps American soldiers to experience transformation and healing in the French city where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.
Upon hearing about this program in 2019, Hink applied to participate with his wife in this annual pilgrimage, which takes place as part of the International Military Pilgrimage. “Over time, I met people who made me aware of the need to talk and to begin a path of healing; otherwise, I would not have been able to restore my bond with God, and this is how I first decided to go to Lourdes: to repair that damage,” he said.
However, the COVID crisis delayed his trip by almost three years. Looking back, Hink is convinced that this delay was God’s will, as his heart was not mature enough to let himself be transformed by this experience back then. “Although I was selected three years ago, I’m not sure I was ready, and I’m grateful I could get this extra time to process.”
At the same time, he received a number of signs that Lourdes would play a major role in his recovery, such as his father’s recommendation a few days before his departure — without being informed of the trip — that he watch The Song of Bernadette, a film he later stumbled upon “by chance” when he turned on his television the next day.
Moreover, the first day of the pilgrimage coincided with the celebration of Fentanyl Awareness Day in the U.S., the first recognition of the scourge that has taken so many young lives in the country these past years.
“This trip started on something that, unfortunately, is so close to us now, and it made it even more obvious that Jonathan brought my wife and I here, to help us heal and listen to God’s voice for him to guide our next steps,” Hink said, highlighting how the alternation between the effervescence of popular devotion in the city and the silence of recollection at the grotto, at the foot of Our Lady, had put his heart in tune with divine love.
“We lit a candle for our son outside the grotto, and we stood there in silence for a long time, opening our hearts to Providence, and we had an opportunity to break down together,” he said, adding, prior to the pilgrimage, “we were like out of time.”
Back in the U.S., Hink’s life has taken on a different dimension. He’s going to church regularly and is praying more, including through online programs. His very mission with the Soldier Recovery Unit at Virginia’s Fort Belvoir, consisting of assisting soldiers with emotional and behavioral health issues, has taken on its full meaning. “I knew when I was appointed there three years ago that this assignment was not a coincidence because I understand the pain of these soldiers, but I feel I’ll be more helpful now and that helping others, armed with my faith, will make me grow even more,” he continued. “I am starting to understand that God has been at work this whole time to provide me healing and comfort.”
Above all, God’s luminous irruptions in the middle of the darkness of mourning has helped him realize that “nothing in this world is forever, except our relationship with him.”
“Jesus teaches us to be ready to give up everything, but I’m not sure people really know what that means,” Hink said.
“Looking back, I understand that although we are taught that we are nothing but ashes in the long run, that nothing belongs to us, I had no idea what this really means, and my loss showed me the true meaning of faith,” he concluded. “My trip to Lourdes reminded me that, through God, I am not alone, and I can have relationships that are truly meaningful and to better understand that we are all in this together.”