Monthly Archives: June 2017

On the Way to Priesthood: My Conversion as A Pilgrim

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What is a conversion experience? While Deacon James Wilcox was a seminarian, he journeyed with Pilgrim Center of Hope to the Holy Land. We would like to share the reflection of now-Father James Wilcox, Diocese of Fort Worth, on how this pilgrimage was a conversion experience:

Going to the Holy Land, going on this pilgrimage, really gave the almost “final glazing” (if you will) of formation for me, because it put so many pieces together. It was letting Deacon Tom and Mary Jane [Fox, Group Leaders], who love the Holy Land so deeply, show us the place they love. It was like going to their own homeland; them opening their house to us.

What touched me was the ability to understand Jesus Christ, both his divinity and his humanity, in a deeper way. For example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when I was there praying, I could have a better understanding of Jesus Christ on that night before his crucifixion; his humanity, his prayer to God in that way. Then, on his divinity side, being able to serve as a deacon of the Mass at the Tomb of Jesus Christ offered such beautiful graces, such an opportunity to be where Our Lord rose from the dead, where he conquered death and sin for us. At Mass, being able to celebrate that gift that he’s left for us, really offered a glimpse into his divinity. I would say those are the things that helped me to grow in love.

The most direct method of going forward, and I’ve already seen it today, is really being able to use experiences, using knowledge, using the encounter with Christ that I had on the pilgrimage, in preaching. Really, that’s the first call: always to preach the Good News. To be able to do that from having walked in the footsteps of Jesus Christ is tremendous.

We need small conversion experiences in growing deeper in understanding who Christ is, so we come to know how he lived, why God came down to earth for us, and how we can live with him today in that way, but then, more importantly, in the Heavenly Banquet, as well.

The Pilgrim Center helped me on this pilgrimage understand universality in a very special way. When we see Christians in Palestine who are praying the same way we’re praying, when we attend Mass – the Mass that we pray, but it’s in Arabic; we understand that yes, we as pilgrims are a Body of Christ in and of ourselves, but we are Body of Christ with people on the other side of the world. We really do have a universality to the Church, and not only to the Church, but to our call to each other.

A pilgrimage is more than a vacation, and I think the Pilgrim Center of Hope really understands that a pilgrimage is an opportunity for prayer all along the way. That each of these locations, and moving toward each location, is the opportunity to grow in love of Jesus Christ through a conversion experience. So, the Pilgrim Center of Hope, helping people to be able to do that on large scales, on small scales, are really living out one of the Gospel messages, which is to bring people closer to an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

Conversion is an experience that we can, and must, experience each day! Each of us is called to encounter Jesus every day, to deepen our relationship with him, and decide to live his calling for our lives. This experience changes our whole outlook on life, faith, and our relationship with others.

Join us on pilgrimage! Seats are still available for August 7-17, 2017 journey of faith. Learn more here, or call 210-521-3377.

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How God Healed Me

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Our world needs healing and hope today. We would like to share with you a testimony about receiving these gifts, from a pilgrim who journeyed with our Ministry of Pilgrimages to the Holy Land:

HowGodHealed

I went to the Holy Land with a very heavy heart. The loss of my last parent hit me very hard. I took care of my parents for 9 years in my home. My life was put on hold and I devoted myself to them; cooking, cleaning, taking them to medical appointments, talking to doctors, keeping a log of all their medications, doctors, and short memos of all doctor appointments and procedures; I made sure that all their medications were taken on time and mostly got only 2 hours of sleep. These nine years were the best in my life to know that I did all I could, after all, they took care of me growing up. I can only hope that I made them comfortable.

My healing occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I suffered from continuous severe pain in one leg for many years; that is totally gone now.

The main healing occurred while writing a letter to God. I had just completed praying the Rosary, and disappointment began to surface; so I began to write God a letter. I let him have it:

Dear God,
Why did you have to take my last parent — Dad did not have anything wrong; however, he did begin to eat less and less. Was it his time to go home to you so soon? God, after Dad’s funeral Mass and we were walking behind the casket out of the church, I almost fainted–I was so taken with grief.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not pull myself together. It was after the reception when it was time to leave. My siblings knew I would be going home to an empty house, yet no one indicated they would come stay one night with me or even asked me to come stay with them for one night. I went home alone and sat on the recliner about 3 hours–dead silence, God…

THEN IT HAPPENED: a deep warmth came upon me – on my face and within my heart. I thought I might be having some kind of out-of-body experience, but no, it was the Holy Spirt. I then heard a voice, “ALL I WANTED WAS TO HAVE SOMEONE SPEND 1 HOUR WITH ME IN THIS VERY GARDEN.” I began to tremble and knew at that point that my hurt and pain was in no way in comparison to our Lord. My tears dried up and I thanked our Lord for giving me this message: Dad and Mom are together and in a better place, and there is much more for me here on earth.

No matter where I travel next, this will be an experience and healing that I will carry to my grave. It is our faith that will carry us through all our deepest challenges. I have talked to individuals who are experiencing challenges about this, and they have gone back to church and began reading Scripture. I privately thank God and follow-up with these individuals.

It’s been a year since Dad went home. I have been busy getting my home in order; for a year I could not get myself motivated. I am at peace, and when I go to the cemetery now, the tears are dried up. I know that I will have moments, and I will then remember the Garden of Gethsemane – and if tears come, that’s OK.

God is ready to give you the healing you need. Seek Him in prayer!

Pilgrim Center of Hope’s desire is to reclaim the true meaning of pilgrimages as journeys of faith. Far from being ‘a religious tour,’ true pilgrimages are encounters with God. We invite you to journey with us!

> Upcoming Pilgrimage – Join us in an opportunity for conversion in the Holy Land, August 7-17, 2017. Just a few spots remain! Learn More.

How the Gospel Came Alive to Me

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A woman's bare feet walks on an ancient stone floor

In today’s world, we are faced with the question: “Why do you believe in God?” or even, “Why would you believe in God?”

Today, the United States’ largest religious group is known as the ‘Nones’; people who have left religion or choose not to affiliate with any religious faith. Why is our nation ‘disconnecting’ from God?

This is one of the reasons Pilgrim Center of Hope was founded: to re-connect people with God and the Church. Over the years, we have met many men and women who participate in this ministry and experience that renewed connection. One such person is Mary Jo Quinn, who journeyed on a PCH pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009. She shared with us:

The Garden of Gethsemane was probably the most significant experience. We were given the opportunity for two-and-a-half hours of silent prayer, and that was an overwhelmingly glorious experience. I was able to relate to Jesus in his loneliness when he was there, how lonely he must have felt, and yet the presence of God there; knowing that he wasn’t totally alone. Nor was I totally alone. The olive trees were significant to me because they’re old, and I thought, ‘Some of them may have been there when Jesus was alive.’ That time was beautiful. I was able to identify my loneliness and that God is with me.

My other highlight was in the Tomb [of Jesus], in the Holy Sepulcher. I was asked to be a lector. We actually were able to get all of our pilgrims into the Tomb, into the very small area where the Tomb is. Another friend of mine and I were both able to read, and to this day, when we see one another, we reflect on what an honor that was, celebrating the Mass of the Resurrection.

The Gospel comes alive. Now, I prepare every Sunday to teach a Special Needs Faith Formation class. I do a pictorial card for them of the Gospel, and it’s just awesome… I can actually explain to them what happened and where that was, and that I actually walked where Jesus was. Bringing the Gospel alive is a wonderful aspect of the entire pilgrimage. You couldn’t ask for anything more than knowing that, all these years you’ve read the New Testament and tried to picture where it was, and now all of a sudden you didn’t have to try. To stand on the foundation of my faith was a high point for me; I was there where my faith began.

When I read Scripture now, I can have a vision of possibly where it happened; that it was a real place and not just written. I’m a lector, and I was able to relate to the New Testament better than I ever was before by having that experience of seeing the Gospel alive.

I took home with me that I walked in the footsteps of Jesus, I met him there, and I brought him home with me. It was glorious.

What helped Mary Jo to see the Gospel alive? Certainly, she was physically present in the places where Jesus lived, died, and rose again! Yes, she touched the stones and trees that silently witnessed the foundation of our faith! These are two undeniably powerful experiences that Holy Land pilgrims cherish.

No matter where you are right now, Jesus is calling you to encounter him and experience a renewal of faith! “Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the Word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel)

Each of us is called to approach and encounter Jesus today. Mary Jo allowed God to see her loneliness, and there she saw that Jesus was lonely, too. What is troubling you? Take a few minutes today to ask Jesus to be with you. And what makes you happy? Invite Jesus into your joyful experiences. Remember that he assured us, “I will be with you always” (Mt. 28:20).

> Upcoming Pilgrimages – Join us and re-connect with your faith with our Ministry of Pilgrimages! See Upcoming Dates.

What Helped Me Trust In God

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Have you heard the phrase, “Let go and let God?” It is a trite expression, often difficult to follow. Many of us struggle to trust God with every aspect of our lives: our career, health, family situations, and the future in general.

Pilgrim Center of Hope was founded on this idea: That Jesus calls us to follow Him! Over the years, we have seen many people who participate in this ministry grow to a deeper awareness of what it means to follow Jesus, trusting Him with their life. One such person is Jack Moynihan, who shared some of his story with us:

I certainly went to Sunday Mass, but I didn’t have the depth of faith and devotion to Christ and his Mother that I do now. My whole attitude was that I wanted to be in control. Basically, I’ve spent my life doing just that! I would conclude what I wanted to do, and then move forward to accomplish that.

In 2013, Jack made a journey of faith with us to the Holy Land.

My most treasured recollection of my Holy Land pilgrimage was at the Mount of Beatitudes. It’s a very peaceful place, and probably not much different than it was from the time of Christ. It’s a little hill, and then you look down to the Sea of Galilee. I was fortunate enough to see it at sunrise and at sunset. It was a beautiful experience for me; spiritually enriching to be there and witness the scene that Christ would have seen at his time and what he looked out upon.

At the place of Christ’s death, we were able to place our hand at the site of the Crucifixion. We could see the stones that had been moved by the earthquake. We could see the coming together of the Truth of the Gospel with what we were observing as people, firsthand. That was extremely powerful.

The Gospels that we read every Sunday became more meaningful, because we were actually there.

The Holy Land pilgrimage started me, personally, on a deeper relationship with Christ. Now, I realize that I have to put myself at the disposal of God; I have to do what He wills me to do, and not what I will to do. It’s a complete change in emphasis. That was a gradual process, and it was assisted by each of the pilgrimages.

What was key to Jack’s conversion, so that he learned about trusting God entirely?

  • Prayer – United together, our preparation for each pilgrimage and our daily activities on pilgrimage, begin with prayer. Prayer opens us to allow God’s work within us.
  • An Act of Faith – Going on a pilgrimage is an act of faith. We are entering into a new experience in a new place, with a new group of brothers and sisters in Christ, journeying to sacred places with the faith that we will encounter God and his grace through this experience.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II promulgated a document offering this reminder about the first pilgrim: “By leaving his country, his family and his father’s house, Abraham goes with trust and hope towards the horizon that the Lord indicated, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: ‘It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants.'”

Each day of our lives can be a pilgrimage toward eternal life. What act of faith will you make today?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want to trust you more. I open myself to your Holy Spirit. Help me to listen to your voice and follow you in my daily activities. Open my heart to find you in the people around me. Give me a spirit of prayer. Help me to act in faith today. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

> Upcoming Pilgrimage – Join us in an opportunity for conversion in the Holy Land, August 7-17, 2017. Just a few spots remain! Learn More.