How God Led Us to a Ministry of Pilgrimages
by Deacon Tom and Mary Jane Fox
In 1984, when we were just beginning to take our faith seriously, we had an opportunity to visit the Holy Land. Our first attraction was curiosity, mixed with our growing interest in our Catholic faith. We had no idea what a profound impact this journey would have on our faith and our relationship with each other. Our hearts were changed, our lives were changed.
We stayed at a Franciscan pilgrim hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Casa Nova. For two weeks, we were on our own in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and we wasted a lot of time searching for the holy places with the help of maps. However, in that first visit we began to develop relationships and contacts that would be very important to us in the years to come. We were especially attracted to the Franciscans and their loving care of the holy places that were so important in the life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. They also encouraged us, not just to visit the holy places, but to stop and pray and have an experience of the holy places.
Early in the morning, we would see people coming to pray – people from all over the world as well as the local people. We could see in their faces and in their behavior that they had discovered the living presence of God, and His grace began to seep into our hearts as well. Never before had we desired to spend so much time in prayer; our new friend, Sister Bernarda, arranged for us to spend the night in the Holy Sepulchre Church. Praying at the holy sites, especially the Tomb of Christ, was the most incredible and realistic experience of the presence of Christ in our lives – as if the Lord Himself touched us and anointed us.
The Scriptures came alive for us as we visited and prayed in Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, and around Jerusalem. These experiences gave us a deep desire to learn more about our faith and to draw closer to God.
Upon returning home, we became more active in our parish and became connected to other people who also wanted to grow in their faith by participating in prayer groups and Bible studies.
After a second pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1986, we decided to leave our careers and work for the Church full-time in a door-to-door home visitation ministry, which we continued for seven-and-a-half years.
In 1992, we brought a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land. At the end of the pilgrimage we brought them to the airport and then returned to Jerusalem to spend two weeks in a hermitage in the Garden of Gethsemane. In those two weeks of prayer, we discerned that God wanted us to develop a Catholic evangelization ministry, which we would name The Pilgrim Center of Hope. With the help of friends and benefactors we founded that ministry in June of 1993, and it continues to this day.
Deacon Tom and Mary Jane Fox receive their pilgrim shell from Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher.