|Here I am with Lady Janet and Sir Steve after I received the Pilgrim Shell|
To help answer these questions, I sent an e-mail to Steve Ray, the excellent Catholic apologist and convert from the Baptist tradition. I knew of him mostly from some of his many articles and his time on Catholic Answers Live, but also a little through his blog (which you should follow). I explained to him that I don't generally enjoy traveling with a full bus of people (you tend to spend too much waiting for people to arrive) and that I was particularly looking to be able to spend some time in prayer at the various holy places (and to meet with the Patriarch to request the Pilgrim Shell of the Equestrian Order). His response was for me to give him a call, which I did, and the rest is, as they say, history. It was one of the best phone calls I have ever made.
As I talked with him, I knew I should join his pilgrimage, despite the cost. Steve freely admits that his pilgrimages cost more than other pilgrimages, but, if I may say so, the added cost is well worth it. The pilgrimage put together by Steve and Janet Ray so far surpassed any and all of my hopes and expectations that I think I should tell you why you should go pilgrimaging with them:
Assisting the Christian Population
As members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Steve and Janet are very concerned for our brothers and sisters still remaining in the Holy Land. For this reason, whenever possible, Steve and Janet conduct business with Christians. We stayed in hotels owned by Christians. We ate in restaurants owned by Christians. Our one - yes, only one - shopping excursion was to a Christian co-op. Both our local guide and our driver were Christians. Because they are a decreasing minority, it is imperative that pilgrims support and patronize Christians businesses in the Holy Land.
Two Bases of Operations
Though we were in the Holy Land for eight days, we only stayed in two hotels: one in Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (with every room looking onto the sea) and one in Jerusalem (just outside the Old City and very near the church of the Holy Sepulchre). This required us to do a bit of driving each day to get to our destinations, but it also meant that we only had to change hotels once, which was very nice. We stayed three nights in Tiberias and five in Jerusalem. On the last day, Steve and Janet reserved the rooms for an extra day so the pilgrims who left on the last day (about 7:30 p.m.) could check out of their rooms in the evening after taking a shower and freshening up before their flights home (otherwise they would have checked out of their rooms about eight hours before going to the airport).
The Spirituality of Pilgrimage
The pilgrimage never once felt like a tour. This was due to numerous factors: Mass celebrated each day at the holy sites (most notably within the very tomb of Christ); the recitation of the corresponding mystery of the rosary at the various holy sites; biblical reflections and histories given on the bus rides, as well as Steve's conversion story and the vocation stories of the priest(s) and seminarian(s); and no stops for shopping each day. Shopping was reserved to the day we were in Bethlehem, with a specially arranged visit to a Christian co-op shop. They even made rosaries made by nuns in Bethlehem available for purchase at the very beginning of the pilgrimage so we could touch them to the holy places along the way.
Avoiding the Crowds
Steve and Janet, together with their local guide (Amer) and driver (Assam) - with whom they work each time - do everything in their power to avoid the crowds so as to have better opportunities for prayer at the various sites. This sometimes means early departures from the hotel - and sometimes walks through the dark in the Old City of Jerusalem - or adjusting the itinerary on the fly (as we thought we'd have to do when we caught wind that 40 busses of Italians would likely be following us) but it is well worth the effort and usually also means free late afternoons and evenings.
The cost of the pilgrimage included every meal (usually including a soda or drink), lodging, and all tips and ticket costs (even a camel ride), when necessary. The only "out of pocket" expenses were incidental items like an occasional bottle of water or soda (like Dr Pepper, which can be found in several stores), a snack, and souvenirs and religious items to bring home for family and friends.
I think it safe to say that you would be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable and enthusiastic lover of the Sacred Scriptures and of the Holy Land itself than Steve Ray. The breadth and depth of Steve's knowledge of the Scriptures themselves and of the history of the Holy Land is truly impressive and inspiring. As I explained the benefits of this pilgrimage to a few of my friends before I left Rome, they said again and again, "And you get to travel with Steve Ray!" They were right and I'm glad now to call Steve a friend.
Your Fellow Pilgrims
|PHOTO CREDIT: The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem|
The ways of the Lord are often quite baffling, especially when it comes to the ways and reasons he brings groups of otherwise strangers together. My fellow pilgrims came from all across the United States of America (one of whom is living in London) and even one from New Zealand (who is also living in London). We represented a wide range of ages, interests and occupations, but we all wanted to pilgrimage with Steve for the same reason: to encounter the Lord Jesus in the Holy Land; there were no tourists among us (which can sometimes be problematic with more other so-called pilgrimages that are operated more as tours).
I cannot recommend enough that you join one of Steve's pilgrimages, especially to the Holy Land, but elsewhere, as well. I assure you, you will not regret it. I thoroughly enjoyed this pilgrimage and look forward to joining Steve and Janet again in the future.