I am a native Floridian living in the Orlando area for the past 48 years – being an active parishioner of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park, Florida this entire time, and a widow since 2010. My little story will explain this initial comment – I cannot imagine going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with anyone other than Mary Jane and Deacon Tom Fox – The Pilgrim Center of Hope ministry in San Antonio, Texas.
I had the good fortune (led by the Holy Spirit) in 2009 in contacting by phone, the Pilgrimage Center of Hope in San Antonio, and after chatting with Mary Jane Fox that day, I knew I had finally found my way to The Holy Land. Doing research over many years, it was easy for me to recognize in this conversation the experience, expertise and genuine warmth for and in their Holy Land Ministry.
Meeting them and all the pilgrims from the San Antonio area in March of 2009 at the Kennedy airport in New York, I knew it was a wise decision. Once in the Holy Land and not knowing what to expect; again, in the ensuing days, I could quickly evaluate that the Holy Spirit truly led me in this endeavor with Mary Jane and Deacon Tom.
After my return that year, to then experience a return Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was my burning desire. In the interim years between 2009 and 2014, I had many tour pilgrimage possibilities come to my attention which I did delve into, and compared each of their itineraries.
It is my evaluation and suggestion that when comparing and considering a Holy Land Pilgrimage – do not shop price, as a few hundred dollars one way or the other is incidental when evaluating the accommodations made at the Holy Sites, and significant other Holy Land experiences arranged only by Pilgrim Center of Hope. I recognized this fact immediately on my first pilgrimage. Imagine, at Gethsemane, two hours to ourselves in complete silence overlooking the entire city of Jerusalem is worth the pilgrimage experience in itself.
In doing this comparative research, I was not able to find anyone who booked the eleven nightly accommodations at the ‘Holy Sites’ which Pilgrim Center of Hope arranges for its pilgrims. I felt so very blessed and privileged, and knew I could never return unless I stayed at the same places. Again, imagine your first night in the Holy Land staying at the Carmelite Convent at Stella Maris which overlooks the magnificent Mediterranean Sea and the city of Haifa, and built over the cave of Elijah. Then the next three nights staying at the gorgeous Franciscan Guest House on the top of the Mt. of Beatitudes – looking down upon the Sea of Galilee and over to the city of Tiberius. You never want to leave. Then traveling down to Bethlehem and staying for two nights at the Casa Nova Franciscan Retreat House adjoining the Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine’s Church – a forever memorable experience to actually be staying at this site. Then for the next five nights staying at the magnificent Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center Hotel, owned by the Vatican, across the street from the walls of the old city and Lion’s/Stephen’s gate, and within walking distance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
To even think of staying at hotels on the busy city streets of Haifa, Nazareth, Tiberius, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and far away from these Holy Sites mentioned, seems inconceivable to me.
The teachings and prayerful lessons shared everyday by the Priest, Spiritual Advisor, who accompanies them is another blessing. The Christian Palestinian Guide they arrange is excellent in every respect. And, to experience the Pilgrim Center of Hope group leader’s expertise, knowledge, prayerful reflections, enthusiasm and loving concerns for all pilgrims; and all the things I previously mentioned, is why I made my initial comment thatI cannot imagine going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with anyone other the Pilgrim Center of Hope.
Believe me when I say that once you return and hear the readings at Mass, in a study group or personally, it seems you actually levitate to that site in the Holy Land, and don’t want to leave the memories experienced there.
May our dear Lord and His Blessed Mother lead you to a Pilgrimage experience in their homeland is my prayer for all. Our Christian presence is dwindling, and the message we are asked to deliver from the remaining Living Stones is to please ask everyone to come – your rewards will be great and for a lifetime.
– Frances Tomcavage