Monthly Archives: November 2017

Our Bishops, Beloved Shepherds

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As we reflect on our upcoming 25th anniversary year, and celebrate a visit to Pilgrim Center of Hope this week by Archbishop Gustavo, we cannot help but recall the many moments of encouragement and challenge given to Pilgrim Center of Hope (PCH) by our bishops. We hope the selected memories below inspire you to thank your local Shepherd!

Bishop Joseph Galante – We are infinitely grateful for our friendship with Bishop Galante. Since the beginning of 1993, Bishop Galante worked closely with Tom and Mary Jane to develop Pilgrim Center of Hope as an evangelization center. That summer, he celebrated Mass at PCH. We recalled this momentous occasion in our first newsletter:

During his homily at the Consecration Mass of the Center on June 22, Bishop Joseph Galante described the Church’s term of the laity. He said that the Vatican II Council reminded us again that we are a PILGRIM people and that we really don’t understand fully what it means to be a pilgrim people. He explained that if we think about pilgrims and we talk about ourselves being a pilgrim people, we are going back to the time of the Israelites in the desert. Pilgrims are people who believe God’s promise and set out through the desert depending only on God with no itinerary, trusting that God will fulfill that promise which God has made to them, and following God wherever God is leading them. Bishop Galante blessed and consecrated this new ministry and its new location to Our Lord and Our Lady.

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The Foxes with Bishop Galante

Archbishop Patricio F. Flores – Were it not for our dear Archbishop Flores, PCH would not exist. It was during his service as shepherd of the Archdiocese of San Antonio that we wrote him and asked for permission to follow, what we had discerned to be, God’s call. He never ceased to provide us with paternal guidance and prayerful discernment.

Pray for us, Archbishop Flores… May we be reunited in the Eternal Jerusalem!

Archbishop José H. Gómez – After Pilgrim Center of Hope had completed its first ten years of ministry, San Antonio was blessed with the assignment of Archbishop Gomez. During his over five years as our local shepherd, he provided us with support and encouragement. We especially remember his involvement in the Catholic Men’s Conference and Catholic Women’s Conference, as both a Mass celebrant and a poignant speaker who opened up the Scriptures for hundreds of participants.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS – Archbishop Gustavo has been a “pilgrim bishop” for us. Our relationship began with the privilege of organizing the archdiocesan pilgrimage to accompany him to Rome, where he received the pallium—the official symbol of his authority—from Benedict XVI. Our pilgrimage included many members of his family, as well as members of his previous Chicago flock and new San Antonio family. Our time in Rome was preceded by a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for which then-Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantu served as spiritual director. Some pilgrims continued their journey after the pallium ceremony, to include some tranquil time in Assisi.

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Pilgrim Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi

Inspired by the grace and dignity with which Benedict XVI abdicated the papacy on February 28, 2013, our beloved archbishop issued us a prophetic challenge: begin a Catholic Seniors’ Conference. With a keen eye and heart for his people, Archbishop Gustavo expressed his concern amid a ‘throwaway culture’ that seniors realize their enormous value and personal dignity, and be reminded of their crucial role in the Church family.

Our first conference for seniors was organized over the next year, and was held thirteen months after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s inspiring action: April 5, 2014. Participants expressed great surprise and encouragement upon learning the Church’s message. One wrote: “Definitely I had come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church didn’t care for the elderly who were once young & very active in our Church, but I realized through this conference we are the building blocks of our church.”

Each day as staff, we gather in the Chapel and begin our prayer with the Consecration to the Holy Spirit, which Archbishop Gustavo has asked all the faithful of the local Church to pray. Ven Holy Spirit, ven!

So many other wonderful bishops have walked with us in ministry, including Bishop Patrick Zurek—who has supported many pilgrimages as a spiritual director, Bishop Oscar Cantú—who has encouraged and been involved in a large portion of our work including the Ministry of Pilgrimages and of Conferences, and now-Archbishop Paul Etienne—who, after blogging his Holy Land pilgrimage with us as spiritual director, is spreading the word about our Mother Church there.

Why all this work with bishops? Pilgrim Center of Hope is an answer to the Church’s call for a new evangelization, heavily involving the laity in partnership with clergy. We always consider ourselves at the service of God’s people, and take seriously our Shepherds’ authoritative guidance. Looking forward to our anniversary year, we praise and thank God for these spiritual fathers who have taught, encouraged, and challenged us. Let’s all include our bishops in our daily prayers, and thank God for them!

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3 Steps to A More Thankful Attitude

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Pope Francis has said,

If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength! … Saying ‘thank you’ is such an easy thing, and yet so hard!

When people pray, their prayer is mostly one of petition and intercession; the prayer of thanksgiving is often left unsaid.

Yet, research has indicated that when people take time to be thankful or grateful, it can make them happier, healthier and aware of counting their blessings each day. Here are three steps we recommend to becoming more thankful.

  1. Say Those Little Words – Pope Francis adds: “If families can say these three things, they will be fine: ‘Sorry,’ ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Thank you.’ How often do we say ‘thank you’ in our families? How often do we say ‘thank you’ to those who help us, those close to us, those at our side throughout life? All too often we take everything for granted!” Make a habit of saying these phrases daily, especially to those closest to you!
  2. Make a List of These 25 Things – Consider writing a list of 25 blessings for which you are thankful. In doing so, you will begin to realize how many blessings, gifts and good things you have received or experienced. There is joy in re-discovering this fact!
    • 5 Living People for Whom You Are Grateful
    • 5 Physical Abilities for Which You Are Grateful
    • 5 Places You Are Happy to Have Visited
    • 5 Things about This Year for Which You Are Grateful
    • 5 Things about the Catholic Church for Which You Are Grateful
  3. Remember that “God Was There” – At the same time, let’s not forget to list the ‘not so good moments.’ They remind us that God was, and is, with us in those moments, as well. How do we benefit from this exercise? Archbishop Fulton Sheen has the answer: “No man can be happy on the outside who is already unhappy on the inside.” For each major ‘not so good moment’ from this year, reflect on how God was present.

Let’s take advantage of the remainder of this month, approaching time with family and friends in deeper gratitude.

Having Hope: More Important Than Ever

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In the last few weeks, we’ve witnessed the destruction of four hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and several mass murders – the most recent in a local church. When we recognize things are beyond control, what should our response be?

Saint Paul offered the answer in Romans 12:12 – “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” When God is our hope, he will also be our strength as we remain connected to Him.

Our first response is to pray for those affected; prayers imploring the mercy of God and the graces needed so that they may persevere in their trust in Him. We can also pray for the deceased; remember this beautiful prayer of the Church – “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. May your Perpetual Light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

In Pope Francis’ final General Audience message on hope, he reflected on Paradise, the aim of our hope.

Paradise is not a fairytale place, much less an enchanted garden. Paradise is the embrace of God, infinite Love, and we enter there thanks to Jesus, who died on the Cross for us. Where there is Jesus there is mercy and happiness; without him there is cold and darkness. At the hour of death, a Christian repeats to Jesus: “Remember me”. And even if there may no longer be anyone who remembers us, Jesus is there, beside us. He wants to take us to the most beautiful place that exists. He wants to take us there with the small or great deal of good that we have done in our life, so that nothing of what he has already redeemed may be lost. And to the Father’s house he will also bring everything in us that still needs redemption: the shortcomings and mistakes of an entire life. This is the aim of our existence: that all be fulfilled, and be transformed into love.

If we believe this, death ceases to frighten us, and we can also hope to depart from this world in a peaceful way, with so much confidence. Those who have met Jesus no longer fear anything. We too can repeat the words of the elderly Simeon; he too was blessed by the encounter with Christ, after a lifetime spent in anticipation of this event: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Lk 2:29-30). At that instant, at last, we will no longer need anything; we will no longer see in a confused way. We will no longer weep in vain, because all has passed; even the prophecies, even consciousness. But not love: this endures. Because “love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8).

Only the light of God’s love can transform the darkness. We can make a difference through prayer and active love. Let us remain steadfast in Hope!

Seeking Jesus – Through the Desert

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Today, we share Part Three of a personal story about seeking Jesus. We thank Sonja Harris, a professional photographer and our recent Holy Land pilgrim, for allowing us to share these words and images…

SecurityFenceWhat a better way to Seek Jesus than to renew our Baptismal vows in the Holy Land? Everything I experienced was nothing what I expected. Before arriving to our destination at the Jordan River where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, we were able to see along our route the security fence that divides Israel and Jordan: barbed wire fence, as far as the eye could see, leaving nothing to the imagination that these two countries are in serious conflict. I have never seen such a long security fence…

We arrived at the Baptismal location at the River Jordan and I was astounded first at the unusual vivid green color of the river, then at how narrow this section of the river was.  It’s our understanding that Christ was actually baptized around the bend to the right, which is just downstream, but not accessible to our group that day because it is on the Jordanian side. At about 3am Texas time, Deacon Tom Fox sprinkled water from the Jordan on us as we renewed our baptismal vows as a group.  Time is allotted to the different groups coming to be baptized, and some were in their white shirts actually getting into the river in an area marked by metal rails.

A Greek Orthodox Church across the river was having a baptismal ceremony for a baby, and the father waved at us while holding his child. Sitting behind the father on benches were two Jordanian soldiers who, I’m guessing, are guarding the river so no one swims across. There were no visible signs of weapons on the soldiers.

The ride from the Jordan River to the Dead Sea was not long. The Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world at 1,412 feet below sea level.  While it may not have been my favorite place because of the heat, it certainly was an eye opener to the mysteries God provides.  The sea is extremely rich with salt and minerals, so much so that a person cannot sink under the water. The black mud taken from the sea when rubbed on our bodies, then rinsed off, leaves the skin very smooth to the touch.

JerichoJericho dates back to 9000 years B.C., is mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments, and is the oldest city in the world. The walls have long ago crumbled down. In ancient times, Jericho was considered to be the strongest fortress, yet it was conquered by Joshua and the Israelites with God’s help (cf. Joshua 6:1-27). Reading the Bible has become so alive for me now, because I can picture the city and all the ruins.

Still inhabited after 11,000 years, it is very obvious that Jericho has suffered under Israeli occupation. The city has been under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority since 1994. The political issues are a bit complicated for someone not familiar with the politics of the region. Upon entering the city, there was a large sign stating that a project aiding Jericho was being gifted by the American people to the Palestinian people.  It was good to see this sign, since the city is littered with trash, and poverty seems prevalent because of the occupation. Researching, I found the Palestine-Israel Journal, 2001, with information from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, that 64% of the population living in the Palestinian Territories live below the poverty line.

Before lunch, we stopped in front of the ancient Sycamore tree where Zacchaeus met Jesus. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealth man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. (Luke 19:1-10)

We ate our delicious Mediterranean meal at Mount of Temptation Restaurant, where we were showered with hospitality from the staff. I was able to photograph the city from the restaurant’s rooftop. The rooftop gave me an advantage of seeing Jericho at a great distance, and Mount Temptation, where Jesus was tempted by the devil.  To actually see Mount Temptation and photograph it was incredible. Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” (Matthew 4:1-11)

Before arriving to our resting place at the hotel Notre Dame in Jerusalem, we stopped to see Ein Karem, the birthplace of St. John the Baptist. The church is a simple design that was built over the cave where St. John was born. From inside the church, you step down into the cave. Over the entrance is a large painting of St. John baptizing Jesus. Once inside the cave, the place of his birth is marked by a large marble star with the Jerusalem Cross in the center and the Latin inscription,“Hic Precursor Domini Natus Est,” translated, Here was Born the Precursor of the Lord. What an experience, visiting the birthplace of the man who waited to serve our Lord before He went into the world to fulfill Scripture! St. John was beheaded for speaking against immorality.

EinKaremAnd you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:67-80)

This is a beautiful depiction of St. John the Baptist, who spent so many years in the desert. He must have been a rugged-looking man; at least that is how I picture him in my mind. The small plate beneath this painting has these words, ‘Saint John the Precursor in the Byzantine Iconography’.

It’s been two months since our trip to the Holy Land, and I am still processing the holy sites we visited. Looking back and writing about them helps with the enormous task of placing life in order: God, family, and country! Everything else is cotton candy or jalapeño juice…