Category Archives: About us

Where is your Bethlehem? Closer than you think.



Last week I overheard a young woman ask someone if they celebrated Christmas. The person responded “Yes, of course I do!”. The young woman said, “Oh, do you know that some people don’t celebrate Christmas?” Upon hearing this, I began to think about those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps they haven’t experienced God’s love or mercy directly. Perhaps they don’t believe in God.

A Long Time Ago

What happened in Bethlehem, Palestine over 2,000 years ago has impacted millions upon millions of souls. God, the Creator of the Universe, sent His Son to be born of a virgin in a humble place, a grotto or stable. You have heard the story – Joseph takes Mary from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census held by Caesar Augustus (ref. Luke 2:1).

It is impressive to learn about St. Joseph through John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer. In it he describes Joseph as a just and righteous man who was obedient to the law:

“Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority, Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire (Jn 1:45). This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, but also as Savior of the World!” (#9)

Not Very Different From Today

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary see the hustle and bustle of the town – people arriving from various areas for the census, donkeys and camels in the streets, marketplace busy, Joseph searched for a place at the inn, and perhaps several inns.

No room at the inn for them! So thanks to an innkeeper, they are told they can stay at a grotto where animals are kept. Here, in this simple, humble, and most likely quiet place, the Son of God is born.

“Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness to the birth of the Son of God in the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that humanly speaking, were embarrassing.” (#10)

The Journey Home

The first time I experienced visited Bethlehem, I was quite emotional because I was able to touch and pray at the place where my Savior was born! My husband and I have led numerous pilgrimages to the Holy Land and our time in Bethlehem is very special. The birthplace of Jesus, our Savior, is still there! A church, the Basilica of the Nativity, is built over it to protect it. Thanks be to God for this – now, we can visit this sacred site, where the Son of God was born, where Hope was born!

Do Mary & Joseph have a place in your home?

Oh, but what if one cannot visit Bethlehem in the Holy Land? Bethlehem can be our parish church and our homes where we have a nativity scene set-up.

Parish churches can be called “little Bethlehems”. It is there where we unite with other Christians to worship God and see the Creche, or the Nativity.

Let us approach the Creche with new eyes, not as before, as we casually looked at it and thought it was nice. Let us look at the Nativity – whether it be plastic, clay, metal or whatever it is made of – and see what took place 2,000 years ago in a small town in ancient Palestine.

Have you prepared a place for Jesus?

Imagine the scene! Mary and the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes… Would you be attracted to spend time with this family? The Shepherds did! The Magi did!

A Nativity scene, a Creche – as simple as it may be; this symbolic representation of Christ’s birth can help us meditate and contemplate God’s love for each of us, God’s mercy to give us a Redeemer born so poor and yet majestic, because He is the Savior!

When life throws challenges at us, whether it be elderly parents, sickness, problems with family or work; think about the Holy Family. They certainly faced their challenges!

Oh yes, let us humble ourselves before the infant Jesus. His gifts of peace, hope and joy last forever! The Christmas Season (Dec 25 – January 6) can be our time in “Bethlehem”, let us take advantage of this time to thank Him for His gifts and humbly present ourselves to Him.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope seeks to offer you opportunities to encounter Christ as a gift. We pray that you and your family find ways to encounter Christ wherever you are and have a blessed Christmas season.

Living Our Beliefs – and What Happens When We Don’t


If you had a message of great importance that you wanted the whole world to know about, who would you choose to deliver it? In the Mass readings this Sunday, we saw that God’s ways are not our ways. God can choose whoever He wants to accomplish the things He wishes to accomplish, as we see in the first reading. Moses complained to God that the mission of guiding His Chosen People has become too great of a burden for him. So, God shares the spirit that He had given to Moses with 70 others, even those who were not in the prescribed place. Though this confused Joshua, Moses was given the wisdom to recognize that this was the work of God. The spirit of God is more important than the instrument He chooses.

Bernadette Soubirous in 1863

A more current example is Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France. This thirteen-year-old girl, who lived in poverty with her family, was of poor health and had difficulty in school. When we were in Lourdes a few years ago, a bishop celebrating Mass near the Grotto said, “If you wanted to give a message to the whole world who would you choose; someone of great importance from a large city? Our Lord chose Bernadette from Lourdes. Through the ages God has chosen people of little significance to be His instruments. His ways our not our ways.” There are some who still reject the Blessed Mother as a messenger of God in spite of the miracles connected to her apparitions. They think that the works of God are confined to their own understanding. Sometimes we also can be like that.

We see something similar in Sunday’s Gospel. John, the apostle closest to Jesus, has just tried to stop someone from driving out demons in Jesus’ name because that person was apparently not a follower of Jesus. Jesus chastises John and tells him, “For whoever is not against us is for us.” What is important is why and how things are done. If they are done out of love of God and neighbor, we should be cautious about rendering judgment. It is not always obvious why people do certain things unless they are clearly good or clearly evil.

Our focus must be on why we do what we do. God has revealed His plan to us through the Scriptures and the Church: We know that through baptism we become children of God and receive the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We know that we can encounter Christ in a deep and personal way through the Sacraments of the Church, the sources of the grace we need to live close to God in prayer and to discover His plan for us. We know that God wants us to be holy and has made it possible for us to be holy if we are faithful to what He has revealed to us, and this faithfulness will help us reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity.

We can be certain that this plan is true because it has been discovered and lived by saints through the ages who have been heroic witnesses of the love of God. There are consequences for us when we do not live this plan. Jesus said that if we live for our self, we will lose our life; and not only our life because we will give scandal to others. We must remove everything that is an obstacle to salvation.

There is no one on this earth more blessed than Catholics because God has given us every possible means to live a life close to Him. We have His Divine Word, the Scriptures; we have His Church to guide us and strengthen us with the Sacraments. We have the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints to intercede for us. We especially have the Holy Eucharist in which Jesus gives us himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity because he loves us that much. Why would the whole world not want to Catholic and have what we have? Could it be because we have scandalized the world by not living what we have received; by following the ways of the world instead of the Gospel? How can we expect others to believe what has been handed on to us by the Apostles and there successors if we are not witnesses of what we profess?

About thirty years ago, someone asked me why I was Catholic. I was glad to be Catholic and knew I would never want to be anything but a Catholic. I went to Mass every Sunday and to confession occasionally, but I realized at that time I never really gave much thought to the importance of my faith. Actually, I hadn’t learned anything about my faith since graduating from a Catholic high school. At that moment, I knew I wasn’t really sure of what I believed. As I pondered that for a few days I realized I had let the importance of my faith fade. I had become a ‘One-Hour-A-Week’ Catholic; my decisions were not influenced by my faith at all. Thank God for the wake up call. It was not long after that, that I bought my first Bible and joined a prayer group with my wife. We began to pray together and study our faith, and a new joy came into our lives. I guess you could say that was the beginning of the rest of our life together and opened up new possibilities and now our important decisions are based on our relationship with God and we have great hope.

When we profess our creed together, let us reflect on the words we say, and ask the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts with gratitude for being recipients of Almighty God’s great plan of salvation and the intimacy He offers us in His Church. Let us pray then for the grace to be witnesses of what we believe.

This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.

What is the role of a Godparent? What does Baptism do?


My husband Tom and I were asked by our friends to be the Godparents of their firstborn child, their daughter, at her Baptism. It’s an honor to be asked to be a Godparent to a child, and it’s also a commitment for life! So what is the role of a Godparent?

It’s a response to the invitation of the infant’s parents in making a Profession of Faith in the child’s name and accepting the responsibility of assisting the parents in instructing the child in the Faith.

Especially for Tom and I this is an honor, since we don’t have children of our own, and because we love the Lord and the gift of the Church! In the 34 years of our marriage, we have become Godparents to other children and believe it is a blessing for us to become a part of their lives.

During the Baptism, it is the tradition for the Godmother to hold the baby while the priest pours water over the child’s head and says the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Through Baptism, this child receives the grace of God, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit along with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

After the Baptism, I held that small child in my arms and as looked at her, I asked our Heavenly Father to bless this daughter of His, to guide her through life and to give her the grace needed in the vocation He is calling her to live.

What Is Baptism?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops defines this gift of the Sacrament of Baptism:

The origin and foundation of Christian Baptism is Jesus. Before starting his public ministry, Jesus submitted himself to the baptism given by John the Baptist. The waters did not purify him; he cleansed the waters. “He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake . . . to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water” (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Liturgy of the Hours, I, 634).

Jesus’ immersion in the water is a sign for all human beings of the need to die to themselves to do God’s will. Jesus did not need to be baptized because he was totally faithful to the will of his Father and free from sin. However, he wanted to show his solidarity with human beings in order to reconcile them to the Father.

By commanding his disciples to baptize all nations, he established the means by which people would die to sin—Original and actual—and begin to live a new life with God.

What are the Effects of Baptism?

The Bishops continue by showing us what Baptism does:

  • Baptism makes us “members of one another.”
  • Baptism leads us to imitate Christ’s example.
  • Baptism makes us disciples to the world.
  • Baptism calls us to live in the world, seeking the Kingdom in our daily lives.
  • In Baptism, we profess our commitment to the Church’s beliefs, values and vision.
  • Baptism invites us to a vocation of holiness and the practice of charity.
  • Baptism incorporates us into the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
  • The baptized are to live as “lights in the darkness.”

Baptism is truly a gift from God! It is God’s “touch” on our souls! One that will remain with the baptized forever. In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 43, verse 1, we read: “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, …’Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!'”

So, if you are asked to be a Godparent, think about the wonderful role you will have in the life of the person being baptized, encouraging them with hope to be a faithful disciple of the One who called them by name.

Living Stones


How many of us enjoy collecting things from special places we visit? Some collect souvenirs, postcards, photos, or rocks; reminders of experiences of a vacation, a retreat, or a pilgrimage.

Just a few days ago, Tom and I returned from leading a group of 39 pilgrims to the Holy Land. We saw many of the pilgrims picking up stones from the Sea of Galilee, olive leaves from the Garden of Gethsemani, and even water from the River Jordan. When visiting these holy sites, you want to grab something from these places that will help recall the site. One of our favorite places to collect stones is the Sea of Galilee; after all, these stones are from the waters in which our Lord and His Apostles spent much of their time. For the pilgrim, these stones are precious, perhaps moreso than any souvenir you can purchase in the Holy Land. Bringing these stones home with us are like bringing back a part of the Holy Land.

“Living Stones” – Palestinian Christians

What Are Living Stones?

The pilgrimages organized through our Ministry of Evangelization includes an important component to the experience of the Holy Land – encountering the “living stones” of the Holy Land. The “living stones” are the Christians of the Holy Land; they are Palestinian Arab Christians. Many of them are asked, “When did you convert from Islam?” They answer quite passionately by saying that they are the descendants of the early church. Yes—they were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:11) at the birth of the Church and have been present for 2,000 years. Some say humorously, “Our ancestors may have drank tea with the Apostles!”

They are called “living stones” because they keep the Church alive in the Holy Land. Many are parishioners at churches in Cana, in Nazareth, in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem! And many depend on tourism and pilgrimages for their income through hotel management, restaurants and shops. Their deep faith and hope, their warm hospitality, diverse gifts and command of languages make up who they are as the “living stones” of the Holy Land. The local Church leaders call them “bridge-builders” between Islam and Judaism, because they can be instrumental in creating dialogue and peace between these two cultures. They bring the message of peace, love, forgiveness and hope to a world filled with prejudices and misunderstandings.

Living Stones’ Message for You

Christians used to constitute 18% of the Holy Land’s population in 1948 and over 50% of Jerusalem’s population. Now, they are below 1.5%. Why such a low number? They are leaving due to the Israeli occupation and military check-points which prevent movement and lack of freedom in certain parts of the Holy Land such as the Palestinian Territories. When asked the question, “What would you like to tell American Christians?” They all answer, “Don’t forget us!” They ask for prayer and for future pilgrims to take time to visit with them.

Tom and I have many stones from the Holy Land, but the “living stones” make up an important part of our lives. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and many have become very dear friends. To learn more about the Church in the Holy Land; go to:

Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very land where the Savior was born! (John Paul II in his homily, Bethlehem, March 2000 during his Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land)

When I First Kissed the Empty Tomb


Three Marys at the Tomb, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

We are in the middle of the Easter Season – the Catholic Church’s 50-day liturgical season. It’s a time to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and it’s my favorite season in the Church’s calendar year. The scripture readings proclaimed every day during Mass are about Jesus’ Resurrection, His apparitions before His ascension to Heaven, His Promises and the beginning of the early Church. It also reminds me of the Holy Land.

When Tom and I first traveled to Jerusalem several years ago, we were searching to learn more about the land of the Bible, about the land where Jesus walked. While in Jerusalem, we were able to attend Mass in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher that is built over the Tomb of Christ, Calvary and the surrounding area. After Mass, we had the opportunity to enter a large marble edifice built over the ancient tomb of Jesus. Upon entering, there is a small chamber called the Chamber of the Angel, where the Angel stood and addressed Mary Magdalene and the others, “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6). Then you must bow very low to enter a smaller area where five persons can fit in tightly. To your right, you see the place where the body of Jesus was placed, wrapped in linen cloth.

Edifice surrounding the Tomb of Christ

Here is where Jesus was raised from the dead, where the Resurrection occurred! You can imagine the feelings we felt as we touched this place, and recalled the Gospel stories in our minds. We knelt and kissed where His body laid, we placed our arms on this stone slab and thanked God for this moment! We thanked God for allowing us to kiss His empty tomb. I remember thinking, “Lord, you know we are here!” It was as if time stood still for us both, recalling what occurred there 2,000 years ago! And what indeed occurred there affected us and millions of others.

Even after visiting the Holy Land numerous times, leading pilgrims on pilgrimages; our time spent in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher is always a highlight, as it would be for any Christian! Our pilgrim groups have Mass in the Tomb, we read the Resurrection story from the Gospels, we pray, and we receive Eucharist in the Tomb. After leaving the Tomb, we are filled with great joy, with peace. Does it remain with us? Yes! If we continue to follow Him in our daily lives.

When I am distraught, or experiencing a trial; I remember my time in the empty Tomb! Today, April 23rd, I will have major hip surgery. Before going under anesthesia, I will certainly call upon the Risen Lord and recall my time in His empty tomb and other sites in the Holy Land where He lived.

Whenever you need to be reminded of His presence under dire circumstances, think about your favorite scripture story, or a spiritual experience that reminds you of His presence.

Feeling Overwhelmed? – An Expectant Mom’s Reflection


The Holy Family with St. Ann, by Luca Cambiaso (16th century)

Yesterday, my husband and I spent the day in the baby’s room. You see, we are expecting our first child; I’m 7 months pregnant. We were putting away gifts that were given to the baby at a baby shower I just had on Saturday.

It finally dawned on us after looking over the baby’s room that it was no longer going to be just the two of us – but that another person was going to be a part of our life now. This little baby was going to rely on us to take care of her, feed her and love her. I started to think about the huge responsibility that was going to entail.

I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by it all when I began to think about the Holy Family. What was it like for Mary when she was preparing for Jesus? Did she feel like me? How was Joseph feeling about becoming a father soon? Did they have everything they needed to care for Jesus? I know that they were both people of great faith. I have faith too, but mine doesn’t compare to the faith they had. Even though I pray, I still think of how I will be as a mom. How we will be as parents to this precious baby girl?

I’ve been asking Mary to help me throughout this pregnancy to be that loving mother to my daughter as she was to Jesus. I’ve been praying to Joseph, too, and asking him to help my husband be the father he is supposed to be for our daughter. Even though Joseph and Mary don’t speak to me personally and tell me how they felt or tell me that all will be OK, I do know that they put people in mine and my husband’s lives that will help us. In fact, those people are already helping us by providing us with not only items that will help us care for the baby but also with their love and support.

I truly feel blessed that we are surrounded by the love of family and friends – on earth and in heaven.

We Can Die, But We Cannot Be Conquered: St. Teresa of Avila


If you want to talk about a powerful Catholic woman (besides our Blessed Mother), St. Teresa of Avila is it.

Hanging above my desk at the Pilgrim Center of Hope (which used to be a Teresian convent) is a huge painting of her, as she writes her famous poem / prayer in Spanish. The translation is:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Teresa lived in sixteenth-century Avila, Spain. She was beautiful, intelligent, and headstrong. As a teenager, she ran away from home and entered a Carmelite convent (her father, who had originally opposed her entering, later gave his approval). After she took vows, she became seriously ill, and her health was permanently impaired.

She also began receiving heavenly visions. Word spread throughout Avila, and people became concerned that she was influenced by evil spirits. She was cross-examined by many priests and religious including Dominicans and Jesuits, who deemed her visions to be holy and true.

In the portrait above my desk, she holds one hand over her heart; a special memorial day in the Church celebrates the day her heart was ‘pierced’ with deep love for God. The experience for her was like an angel piercing her through with a flaming arrow. Bernini’s famous sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa illustrates this event. Her incorrupt heart can be seen and venerated today.

Even with her poor health, she believed that the convent she had entered needed reform. She established the convent of Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of St. Joseph. After the Carmelites’ head honcho expressed his admiration and approval, she began reforming the Carmelite order, with the help of St. John of the Cross. This was not an easy task; she faced violent opposition but always marched forward with her eyes on Jesus.

Teresa died Oct. 15, 1582. Paul VI declared her the first female Doctor of the Church. Teresa, pray for us.

Read St. Teresa’s book on the spiritual life, Interior Castle, by clicking here. (Versions available for your computer or digital reader.)

I was there with John Paul II! – Feast Day of Padre Pio


On June 13, 2002, 500,000 pilgrims gathered in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to join Pope John Paul II proclaim Padre Pio of Pietrelcina a saint! I was privileged with the honor to organize a pilgrimage from San Antonio for Padre Pio Parish. There were around 30 from San Antonio that journeyed to Rome for this historical event. As we stood for several hours in St. Peter’s Square waiting for John Paul II to begin Mass, I began to think about my experience with Padre Pio.

Tom, my husband, and I had visited San Giovanni Rotondo several years before. This is a small town along the east coast of Italy. It is where Padre Pio lived most of his life as a Capuchin Friar in a monastery, praying, offering daily Mass and hearing Confessions daily for several hours. He died in 1968, so he is considered a modern day Saint!

When visiting his monastery, we were able to see his ‘cell’ (room), personal belongings such as his habit, shoes, prayer book, Bible and rosary. His cell was simple, but it gave witness to Padre Pio’ simple and humble life!

We met one of the Friars, someone who knew Padre Pio and lived with him in the monastery. As we heard him speak about his friend, his love for Padre Pio was very evident. He blessed us using one of Padre Pio’s gloves. You see, Padre Pio was the only and first priest in the history of the Church that was blessed with the Stigmata (the wounds of Christ in his body). Gloves were used to cover the bleeding wounds in Padre Pio’s hands, thus making the gloves a sacramental. It was truly a blessing for us, who knew about Padre Pio’s love for Christ, to have received this ‘holy opportunity.’

I will never forget that pilgrimage to Rome in June 2002. It was well worth standing for hours in the summer heat of June, in the midst of the crowd of thousands. Hearing John Paul II’s words about Padre Pio, united in prayer and with much joy with a ‘spiritual friend’ in Heaven and with so many persons from all over the world who knew this “humble, prayerful servant of God”!

Crowd at St. Pio's Cannonization

Padre Pio said

“Let us do good while we still have time, and we will render glory to our heavenly Father, sanctify ourselves, and give good example to others.”

Take a look at this website of the Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Antonio, the only Catholic Church in the United States named after the Saint:

P.S. Interested in going on pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo, Rome, and Assisi? The pastor of the Shrine of Padre Pio, Msgr. Pat Ragsdale, has asked us to organize a special pilgrimage in Fall of 2012. Contact us if you’re interested, and we’ll stay in touch: (210) 521-3377

A Call from Jerusalem


What comes to mind when you think about Jerusalem? I immediately think about Jesus, the Apostles and what occured in Jerusalem -the Passion of Christ, His Resurrection and the birth of the Church. And so the name – Mother Church!
From the Mother Church in Jerusalem a call for unity to churches worldwide is echoed.
The Christian communities have begun a week of prayer on January 22nd and will continue through the 30th. Each evening; Christians will gather in various churches; Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Ethiopian, Syriac Orthodox and others to pray. The theme of the prayer week is “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread“.
I remember when Tom and I participated several years ago. Standing next to Greek Orthodox, Coptics, Protestant and fellow Roman Catholics as we prayed for unity and for peace among all in the Holy Land and throughout the universal church gave me hope! It prompted us to see each other first as a child of God.
Why should we be united in prayer with the Mother Church? The answer is well given from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem: “The succession of the church comes through continuity with the first Christian community of Jerusalem. The Church of Jerusalem in apostolic times is linked with the heavenly Church of Jerusalem, which in turn becomes the icon of all Christian churches. The present Church of Jerusalem lives in continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem particularly in its costly witness to the truth. Its witness to the gospel and its struggles against inequality and injustice reminds us that prayer for Christian unity is inseparable from prayer for peace and justice.”
They also ask that we remember them in their dire situation and pray for justice that will bring true peace in the Holy Land.
We have heard people tell us – “There will never be peace in the Holy Land!” Our response must be that of faith and hope! If we don’t respond, then we too, will fall into a lax attitude toward our brothers and sisters in Christ that will contribute to their diminishing numbers!
We invite you to join us in praying the following prayer given to us from Jerusalem:

Almighty and Merciful God, with great power you gathered together the first Christians in the city of Jerusalem, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, defying the earthly power of the Roman empire. Grant that, like this first church in Jerusalem, we may come together to be bold in preaching and living the good news of reconciliation and peace, wherever there is inequality and injustice. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who liberates us from the bondage of sin and death. Amen.