Doug and I cherish our friendship with you and Janet as well. I can’t tell you how our pilgrimages and time with you have blessed our family. There’s no doubt that our sons are continuing to live out their faith because our time on your pilgrimages together. It makes those trips to Atlantis, amusement parks, or a Caribbean cruise seems so empty.
It is so nice to hear from Armando, Sylvia and you Patrice, as well as Dcn. Larry. Mary and I are still trying to organize our pictures and our thoughts as we come down from the mountain top experience of traveling in David’s new bus, Amer’s great instruction from a native Israelite, and Steve and Janets’ guidance through all the Holy sites. After speaking with friends who traveled to Israel with other tour groups I realize how fortunate we all are to have traveled with Steve Ray. No one could possibly tell the story of salvation history from Adam and Eve to the life death and resurrection of Jesus while standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Kidron Valley to the Temple Mount without notes in 20 minutes. Amazing Steve!!! I wish I had made this trip 16 years ago right after I was ordained. Not to mention great hotels, great restaurants and how about authentic dancing with great energy during lunch at Biet Sahur. I will do my best to share the joy of this pilgrimage with all who will listen. All our best and our prayers to Allen as he begins his radiation treatment.
Grace and Peace to all, Deacon Roy and Mary Forsythe
“I guess it is human nature, everyone has their make of car, favorite scotch, etc. Unless you have experienced another tour, the best in this case, you have no frame of reference.
You may recall our Parish went to the Holy Land last year with __, only because the organizer always travels with Fr. ________ and ___. She and Father asked if we were going to go with them and I explained that if we had never been there before we probably would have gone. But, we have been there with the best and I wouldn’t go back only to be disappointed.
I asked some of my parishioners when they got back and all loved it until you drilled down into specifics.
Who was your guide? “Not a Catholic, but a very nice and knowledgeable guy.”
How much time did you spend at various sites? “We felt really rushed.”
Where did you eat? “In the hotels mainly.”
Was it a punctual trip? “They always seemed to be waiting on the same few people.” (They should have been walking with you, Steve!)
Did you have Mass at the Holy Sepulchre and a good tour? “Stayed a long way from the Holy Sepulchre.” (What good is that?)
Anyway, I always share our pictures and pilgrimage video you made (which other groups don’t get) with my study group and anyone who is thinking about a trip. To a person, they are blown away by the experiences, and you, even the person who arranged our parish’s ____ tour.
I also send many daily pictures to our priest and my other good friend who is an administrator.
They were especially amazed at the sites we visited on the latest Jordan & Holy land pilgrimage. Especially the areas in Palestinian-controlled areas.
Fr. _____ even said, “You have to have the right guides to accomplish something like that.” AMEN!”
Sherry and I are watching your videos of our November Israel pilgrimage tonight. They are so well done!! What a trip. What memories! We are so grateful we had the chance to go with YOU!! We will see you on another pilgrimage soon!
Dear Janet and Steve,
Thank you for a wonderful pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I am sorry to see it end, but I will go home with visions of all that I saw. Your book and pictures will keep those visions alive. The Lord has spoken to me: we are disciples. I pray I will be bold, articulate and able to relay all that the Holy Land represents! God bless and thank you!
Steve and Janet Ray:
Although we had earlier traveled to England, France, Wales, Ireland, the Caribbean, Mexico’s west coast, Alaska, and twice to Italy, none of those destinations were as enjoyable and rewarding as our 11/08 – 11/17/’22 Holy Land Pilgrimage in Israel with you. The professional explanations and guidance provided by you and your team at each of the over 20 chosen sights provided invaluable perspective on the life and times of Jesus Christ and were as inspirational as they were educational. They taught and/or reminded these 68 year old Catholics more of our faith and its history than we were otherwise earlier able to recall.
Lynn and Mary McHugh
Greetings from Panama. On this day that we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, we recall our visit with you to Mt. Tabor, and how you pointed out to us as we were driving there, how the top of the mount was covered in a white cloud, as a premonition of what we were to celebrate there on that first day of our pilgrimage. What an unforgettable memory!
We also remember often when we were blessed by being able to celebrate the Eucharist at the Sepulcre, with Fr. Courtney being inside the tomb and coming out with the Eucharist for communion, pointing out that this was the risen Christ, coming out of the tomb for us. Another unforgettable memory for us from our first pilgrimage with you and Janet, and of course Amer.
We thank God for these experiences that He has allowed to have and for your ministry in drawing so many closer to Jesus. Hope you’ll be able to resume these pilgrimages in the near future so that more can experience walking in the Footsteps of God in the Holy Land.
Love and blessings for you and Janet. Hope all is well with you and your family.
Dearest Steve and Janet Ray and Amer,
Wow! I don’t know how to start. I promised you a “love letter” and after having spent a week with all of you on the most incredible spiritual journey on this blessed Earth, well, I’m left with profound introspection. I cannot even begin to describe the transformative powers of your Holy Lands Pilgrimage.
I was a bit of relapsed Catholic up until about about ten years ago. I wasn’t going to Church because even though I took up a whole semester of it at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, I was still quite dismissive. However, it was in that same class that began the quiet seeds of my journey back to the Catholic faith. I’ll return to this in a bit.
About ten years ago, it was my Mom who got us back into the faith in a vigorous and joyful manner. She was constantly telling us tales of the Catholic mystics who were able to have visions of our Lord and were commanded to write them down. She collected books and books of the Catholic saints. She bought the Catechism and read through it. She attended Bible study groups and was shocked to hear that a certain priest was being heretical in his sermons and my mom observed that people were soaking it up. So she would stand up for the true Faith at those Bible study groups. They would be left in shock about the things she said about that priest.
She then took a pilgrimage with another group arranged by Cosmos and moderated by a robust and experienced Filipino Catholic priest who has been to some of the most bloody places in the world: Afghanistan, Serbia, Bosnia, and Iraq. It’s a good thing she went with him because she had no intention of wasting a good trip learning absolutely nothing about Catholicism, which was the attitude of some of the people she went with. She took that trip fully bent on learning more about her Faith. Boy, she came back a pursuer of the Catholic Faith. And she wanted her two boys to be just as strong.
So she told me about her experiences with Cosmos and then heard about your pilgrimage. She researched who you and Janet were and how your journey to become Catholics touched her immensely. My brother and I were already quite active with our parish for the last six or seven years in various ministries. I am a Lector, Eucharistic Minister, Usher (Hospitality Minister), Treasurer for the Knights of Columbus, and now, heading up the newly started Altar Acolyte Service. I also help my mom administer Holy Communion service at a Senior living facility. My brother is active with the Gift Store and Manna Cupboard – a food bank for the Church.
But she felt while we were doing God’s work, she felt we needed a pilgrimage as well. I never understood pilgrimages at first, but I do know that the Knights of the Crusades were often hired to guide and guard the pilgrims of medieval times on their journey to the Holy Land. That part I knew about, but being a pilgrim itself? I was clueless. What do I do? Other than pray at the Holy Sites, what do I really need to do?
One of the things that mom told is that Catholic dogma offers indulgences for those taking on pilgrimages to the Holy Land with the understanding that it is a faith-filled, prayer-guided journey. So mom offered us Cosmos and your pilgrimage packages to compare. She did HIGHLY RECOMMENDED us to take Footprints of God Pilgrimage based on your reputations and recommendations from people who actually wished they’d have taken your pilgrimage instead of someone else. I did my own research and found your videos on your website. I was intrigued. I looked at the others and found none of them had the comprehensive package that you offered. Plus, it was a chance to learn what was the driving force behind Venerable Fr. Michael McGivney’s to start the Knights of Columbus and become the Strong Right Arm of the Catholic Church.
I decided to take your pilgrimage emphatically. I went into this experience with an open mind to receive the Holy Spirit. Your Conversion Story still moves me to tears, Steve and Janet. I had ample opportunities to learn more about the places where Jesus’ missions took place. You and Amer tied in everything perfectly and I feel like what one other pilgrim said, “This is like taking a Master’s Course in Catholicism in just nine days.” I am armed better to defend my Faith and to lead a loving life that glorifies Our Lord Jesus Christ. The way you spoke about the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Church of the Visitation made me weep in the heart with joy. And you told it with such fervor and devotion that I couldn’t sleep. So I would find myself hours early awake and in the Chapel at Notre Dame praying the Rosary and crying my eyes out because now, they really mean something truly extraordinary.
Amer’s historical knowledge can humble an Antiquity professor’s training. He has no filter about the alteration of Biblical history done by so-called New Age professors. I loved that! Without being bombastic, he has literally shut down every doubt I had about the providence of the Holy Land and Jesus’ existence as a real historical figure. The guy should be on a tour in every Catholic cathedral in the United States. He should be up in the faces of the Cardinals and Archbishops who dare to rewrite Catholic Biblical history. If you and Janet have become my Spiritual anchors, Amer is the boot that firmly stomps on everything that defies Biblical History. And for that, I hope he lives forever.
That seed that I mentioned earlier was dormant in my heart, my soul, and my mind and now, it has fully blossomed into something I could scarcely wrap my mind around. I would never have believed this could happen to me. Of all the great things I remembered about that priest so long ago at Madonna University, it was his calmness in the face of the punishing whips of the highest levels of collegiate cognitive reasoning. I never understood how he was not able to fight fire with fire when all signs pointed that he should have done exactly that. I NOW realized why. That priest just gets it and he did it with valor from the Holy Spirit and great love by God.
I promised you a love letter. I hope I’ve delivered because this past Christmas in the Holy Land Pilgrimage is truly the absolute standard for all American Catholics. They must take your tour and I will fight for it. From the lukewarm to the fervent, it has appealed to every level of a Catholic’s journey in their Faith. Even when I thought I was in the Graces of God being an active minister in my Church, after this amazing and prayerful pilgrimage with both of you and Amer, I truly feel like I’ve only just begun.
Thank you Steve and Janet Ray and Amer for all your graceful hospitality and amazing content. I really feel like I’ve received something immeasurably fulfilling. Every moment you gave us as pilgrims, I ate it and drank it and prayed it. The consistent opportunity to pray at every site increased my most deepest appreciations for what prayer truly means. it has changed me as a minister for my church in ways I could never have imagined. All of you and the stouthearted Christians who remain in the Holy Lands as testimony to the history and message of Jesus Christ in the Holy Land, well, I can’t help but to do my part to bring more Catholics to the Holy Lands.
God Bless you both and Amer forever,
Catalino and Peter