Pre-Pilgrimage Letter 3
Trip Departs May 23, 2011
Greetings!

Greetings in the Name of our Risen Lord.  

Dr. Scott Hahn and The Saint Paul Center has worked hard with us to create an itinerary full of learning and fun experiences on this authentically Catholic pilgrimage. There will be daily talks and seminars to further expand your understanding of the Holy sites and how they tie into scripture. Dr. Hahn, and the whole team, are anxious to meet you and share in this pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

If your family and friends would like to follow your progress, we will be uploading videos to YouTube every day. They simply have to visit  www.catholicconvert.com/blog to see what you are doing and share in the experience. As long as the internet is cooperating, there will be a new  video posted there at the end of every day.

 

This is the last of three Pre-pilgrimage letters we will be sending before you leave to join us in the Holy Land. If you have missed letters #1 or #2 please let us know.
Wearing Name Tags
Just a reminder to PLEASE wear your name tag on the plane and throughout the pilgrimage! We have purchased very nice name tag holders that you will receive around 10 days prior to departure along with your Final Travel Documents.

The name tags help us to recognize each other in the airports, stay together, remember names, and they're your ticket to meals and into holy sites, hotels, restaurants, Mass sites, etc. We think you will really like them. If you forget to put yours on we will try to help remind you.
OnPlane1On the Plane
To arrive in Israel in the best condition possible-sleep well before leaving. Drink plenty of water.  Only drink alcohol in moderation on the plane. Don't hesitate to take a sleeping pill or something to help you sleep on the plane. You will have plenty of time to sleep the first night, but you may suffer jet lag, and we will begin early the next day.
AirportAt the Airport
Remember - very important - make sure your luggage is checked through to your final destination both on the way there and the way home.

When you arrive in Tel Aviv, look for the Israeli "Smile Agent" who will be holding up a sign reading "Steve Ray Group" and everyone can gather around him/her for their assistance. Other than airline passengers and the "Smile Service" are the only ones allowed in the luggage area to help you get through the entry formalities.  

You will:
1) get off the plane and take a long walk,
2) go through Passport Control (no sweat :-),
3) then to the luggage claim for your suitcases.
4) After that walk effortlessly through Customs and
5) out into the Arrivals Hall. Go to the right as you exit Customs and you will see us waiting for you with Amer.

My Israeli cell phone is 054-212-6724 if you have any problems and need to contact me. The escort will have Amer's phone number too. If for some reason your flight arrives early and we are not there yet, just wait and will be there in a few minutes.
PeoplePeople You'll Meet
Of course you all know Dr. Scott Hahn, Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Founder and President of The St. Paul Center. Dr. Hahn has been the to Holy Land numerous times, and will be giving special seminars to the pilgrims. Having him with us on the pilgrimage is a real blessing. You probably already have a feel for his projects and accomplishments, but in case you want to freshen up, here is a link to his bio.

We are blessed to have Fr. Joseph Poggemeyer as our Chaplain and Spiritual Director on this pilgrimage. As some of you may already know, he is a Senior Fellow at The St. Paul Center and currently a pastor in the Diocese of Toledo Ohio. We really appreciate that he will be celebrating Mass and providing spiritual direction for the pigrims. Please be sure to thank him for being a Catholic priest!

Mike Aquilina is the Executive Vice President and Trustee of The St. Paul Center and is a widely recognized as a brilliant Catholic author and lecturer. He is no stranger to the Holy Land and is sharper than a tack. You should check out all the books he has written about the Catholic Faith!


Some of the first people you will meet at the airport in New York will be your American escorts: Jim & Cheryl Olszewski and Jesse Ray.
Jim & Cheryl are Footprints of God veterans, they were just in the Holy Land with us last year and Jesse has been to the Holy Land four times.
They are friendly, welcoming people, armed with helpful information and experience and are excited to assist you along the way.


The bus drivers we will have are wonderful men Catholic men and all from the same family. Their names are Essam, Nael and Azmi. We have handpicked these men for their skill and safety records. They are truly excellent drivers, and people always comment on how smoothly they navigate the buses in all types of conditions.


Last, but certainly not least, you will certainly meet our Local Guide, Amer Shehadeh. He is one of the few Catholic local guides in the whole country, and he is undoubtedly the best. Amer, [ah-mare], will be one of the people you will meet at the airport. He lives in Nazareth and his family can trace their lineage back more than 400 years in the Holy Land. He is a gentleman and a scholar, with a real talent for sharing the knowledge he has in a fun and interesting way. Having him with us is a real treat.

You will meet many other people along the way. The people in Israel are generally very friendly, especially when they find out you are traveling with us. We have developed many friends in the Holy Land so don't be surprised if people go above and beyond to make you feel comfortable and welcome.

Lastly, you should know ahead of time that Janet and I are terrible at remembering names. Please do not be offended. I even get the names of my kids mixed up. It is a mental block that I live with so please don't be offended. There will be a group of us all including escorts, drivers, pilgrims and others. It will be impossible for me to come even close to remembering names. Name tags will be a big help for us!
Bus3On the Bus
We will load your luggage and take you on the 2 hour ride up to Tiberias -- to the Sea of Galilee!

You will be very comfortable. They even have a refrigerator in the dashboard for cool bottles of water. Just drop $1 in and take your bottle of cold water out.

The plane arrives in Israel at the end of a long day, and we know you will be tired. After the drive and a quick meal we will get you to bed as soon as possible.


Hotel4Arrival at the Hotel
When you arrive at your hotel in Galilee here is our typical procedure:
  • The hotel will provide keys for your room and tags with room numbers for your luggage.
  • Please put the luggage tags on your luggage as soon as your luggage is unloaded. 
  • The porters will take your luggage to your room as you relax.
  • Shortly after arrival we will have dinner and announce plans for the next day. This might fluctuate based on the arrival time of the last flight and what time the pilgrims arrive in Galilee.
  • We will have a wake up call set for you the next morning, but set your own alarm too--just in case. We have an early start the first morning. 
Meals11Meals & Liquids
There will be an abundance of delicious foods available. You will not go hungry! All buffet breakfasts and dinners are included and will offer both familiar foods and new local foods for you to try. Drinks that are set out and indicated are included as well; any additional or special drinks will be extra.

The lunches will be at a selection of restaurants and range in price between $9 and $26. You will get to experience a wide range of fresh foods including St. Peter's fish, Falafel, Schwarma, Middle Eastern Salads and more. We'll have seven lunches on the road so plan on about $18-20 per day in cash for lunch. Those who are calorie-counters or cost-conscious can feel free to bring along your favorite snacks from home.

To keep us agile at the restaurants, each day on the bus the escorts will collect the money from those who want lunch. You'll get a colored-sticker to put on your name tag for that day. Remember that while the meals and tips are covered in the price, extra drinks are not. 

It is wise to drink a lot of water along the trip, starting with the plane flight. It will be quite warm in Israel and you'll want to keep yourself hydrated.
Be sure to bring along lots of single $1 bills for water bottles during the daily excursions.
Flexibility5Flexibility with Schedule and Itinerary
We have not provided a detailed itinerary for a reason. Record crowds are pouring into Israel this year. We will have other tour groups to contend with and we need to be flexible to work around them.

Thanks in advance for being flexible and allowing us to adjust the schedule as we go. We will maneuver the events to help you see as much as possible in the most relaxed manner possible.  We will share the schedule with you as soon as we are able, and most nights we will post the following day's schedule in the hotel lobby for you to review it if you wish.
Promptness6Promptness - (Important)
Many people have paid their hard earned money to visit the Holy Land with us. Moving our group around is very easy with our system when everyone cooperates. We usually will leave each morning around 8 AM though some days vary depending on the itinerary.

On the morning that we celebrate Mass at the Tomb of Christ, we wake before dawn. Many people say this special event is the highlight of their trip. Because of the early hour, we suggest you bring a small flashlight to brighten your path as we walk through the streets of Jerusalem in the starlight.

We will notify you of the wake up time at dinner the night before and have it posted in the Lobby. Everyone is required to be on the bus and ready to go a few minutes before the specified time. We leave right on time.

Late arrivers are left behind! If anyone is late they will have to catch up with us in a taxi-we have a tight schedule, and don't want everyone to suffer because of lateness on the account of a few. We will always notify the front desk where we are going so that anyone who misses the bus can call a cab and catch up with us.

This is also the case for everyone arriving late to the bus after visiting each site. Some people like to wander off for shopping or exploring--this holds up the bus for punctual pilgrims and puts us behind schedule. So, I want to emphasize the importance of promptness while touring.
Shopping10Shopping
PLEASE bring plenty of $1 and $5 bills. This will be extremely helpful to make exact change for many things. Water on the bus is available for $1, many of the simple souvenirs you will want are $1 each.

We recommend you not carry large sums of cash or valuables. There are pickpockets, like in any other country, including our own. We will be constantly vigilant on your behalf and will warn you of places especially prone to pickpockets. But is it best to travel light.

We know that many people want to shop for Holy Land souvenirs and gifts to bring home memories, buy for friends, and to help the Christians of the Holy Land.

During the trip we will We will provide plenty of time for shopping and will take you to trusted shops with Christian owners, genuine products and reliable shipping. It is best to be cautious when buying from unknown shops and street vendors. We may tell you some horror stories of experiences that we try to help you avoid.

We reserve most of our shopping for Bethlehem for several reasons:
  • The are honest, reputable and have good products
  • Buying from them helps support 65 Christian families
  • In Bethlehem you do not have to pay the 17% tax
  • When they ship things for you they always arrive and they guarantee their services (not found everywhere in the Middle East, believe me)
  • They have good restrooms
  • Efrem will recite the Our Father in Aramaic, the language of Jesus
  • They will take us on a tour of the factory where the olive wood products are manufactured.

We will also have time for shopping in a few other places where you can buy Jewish products, Dead Sea Skin products, Hebron glass, rams horns, books, and much more. We will also make sure you can ride camels if you want to.

Please DO NOT wander into random shops as we are moving through the holy sites. It causes great loss of time and makes it difficult to find everyone and get loaded for the next site.

We will limit the shopping during the pilgrimage-to save a LOT of time and hopefully get everyone back the hotels with time each day to catch your breath and rest (or swim, or pray, or explore) before dinner. If more shopping is desired, there will time some afternoons when you would have free time to wander through the Old City of Jerusalem, shop, eat, or pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

It is wise to avoid buying expensive things in the Old City since there are often items which are not what they appear to be. Gold is often not gold, diamonds not diamonds and icons not authentic. Also just use cash since it is not uncommon for "zeros" to be added to checks and credit card forms.

Remember that all the street vendors and peddlers are Muslims. Most of the shops in the Old City are also owned by Muslims.  After Christians buy from Muslim peddlers they have been seen cursing us and Our Lord as we are walking away. We tend to avoid buying from the vendors for several reasons which we will explain on the bus. We are here to support our fellow Christians as much as possible.

Another note: It is wise to contact your credit card provider to warn them if you will be using it overseas and give them the exact dates. Otherwise, it is common for them to de-activate your card because they think someone else might be using it.
BuesSeats8We Don't Reserve Seats on your Bus
Each and every morning all the seats on your bus are
"up for grabs" or "first come, first serve". Most people like to rotate seats and move around on the bus during the pilgrimage. Once you have chosen seats in the morning they are your seats for the rest of the day. But all seats are again open to everyone the next morning.

The only exception is that we need to keep four front seats open for guides and escorts.
Whisper7Whisper Sets
These are like radio headsets. We are the only group that I know of in Israel that provides these for everyone. I will carry a small transmitter and microphone which will be clearly heard on your earphones. With this cool system, we will not have to shout over other groups or gather into crushing huddles to hear. Plus it will allow me talk to you even in places where we are not allowed to talk. It helps me direct you through the streets when we are walking. Each pilgrim is responsible for their headset and will sign for them on the first day. Please guard them jealously, we rent them and the replacement cost for your lost or damaged headset is $100.
Rosary8The Rosary, Singing, and Catholicism
If you want, we provide Rosaries for you to purchase for $25 a dozen on the first day so you can touch your Rosaries on all the Holy Sites starting at the Mountain of Transfiguration early the first morning. The Rosaries are made of olive wood by nuns in Bethlehem. 

We encourage you to carry the Rosaries with you at all times to touch each Holy site throughout the trip. By the end of the pilgrimage, they will have touched all the sites related to the Mysteries of the Rosary and the life of Jesus and Mary that we've visited. At the end they will blessed by our priests and you can give them to family and friends as marvelous gifts. They will become 3rd class relics.

Click here to see a tentative list of all the places your Rosaries will touch and the places where we will pray each Mystery of the Rosary.

We encourage prayer and singing along the way to enhance our spiritual experience. We are free to sing in most of our liturgies (but NOT in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). Our priests will lead devotions, prayers, and the Rosary at the sites and on the bus. We all want you to have a wonderful time and we will do all we can to facilitate a deeply spiritual experience for you all.

I have been known to get choked up with tears in my eyes-still, after all these trips. But, nobody wants me to start singing-if I did everyone would cover their ears and run for shelter. But, there is usually a few on each pilgrimage who can sing well and lead us in song and the Rosary at various holy sites and during Mass.

In your Pilgrimage Handbook I have provided many of the favorite songs pilgrims want to sing on pilgrimage. Please feel free to bring your own songs as well. If you decide to request a song in the handbook, please notify everyone so we can all join in and the song won't trail off when everyone forgets the words.

While everyone is welcome to join our pilgrimages, it should be clearly understood that the pilgrimages are distinctly and unabashedly Catholic. Janet and I are converts to the Catholic faith from the Baptist tradition. Along the way I will share my conversion story, explain the differences between Catholicism and other religions and denominations. While I have respect for other religions and traditions, I do explain their weaknesses and problems - and that I have discovered the Catholic Church to be the fullness of the Christian truth and faith. As long as non-Catholics understand the emphasis of this pilgrimage - to walk in the footprints of Jesus and Mary, and to explain and defend the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church - and are willing to cooperate and join our adventure, we are glad to have them join us.
Optional13Optional Excursion
On May 29th, you will have the option to take a wonderful day-trip to the Dead Sea, Jericho, and Qumran where the Dead Sea Scroll were discovered. There will also be camels in the desert on this day if you choose to ride one--it is lots of fun and a great photo opportunity. Most people decide to go on this exciting excursion, while some prefer relaxing around Jerusalem on their own.

The cost for this optional trip is $100 per person which includes lunch and will be collected by the escorts early in the pilgrimage. 

The time for the excursion is usually from about 7:30 AM - 5 PM. If you chose not to take the day-trip you can do whatever you wish on the free day: hire a cab to visit the environs of Jerusalem, stay in the Old City to explore and pray, sleep, or shop. Most of the pilgrims decide to join the trip, and always think it is well worth it but, we want you have the option to spend more time in Jerusalem if you wish. Once the ticket price is paid it is non-refundable since we will have already purchased the tickets and arrangements with our vendors.
Other Notes on Heath and Safety
Janet and I have been to the Holy Land over 100 times in the last 15 years--twice already this year. We have developed many friendships and know the country like the back of my hand. The places we will be traveling are very secure, (we feel safer in Israel than we do in Detroit, Pittsburgh, or New York City). Just last month I was running around every corner of the city of Jerusalem among recording it to show how peaceful the areas we visit really are, and to counteract the mainstream media's fear-mongering. See the video here.

Israel is a modern, developed country, with good hospitals, pharmacies and better cell phone coverage that we have in the USA. However, when traveling anywhere there is always the chance that your digestion may not appreciate the new foods or bacteria it encounters.

The tap water in our hotels and the restaurants is certainly safe to drink, but when we are out-and-about it is also wise to drink bottled water just in case. Again, not that the local water is bad--it is actually very good, but like any water it may have unfamiliar bacteria.
If you tend to have a sensitive digestive system bring some Imodium just in case. Very seldom do our pilgrims have any problem with diarrhea, but the few times it has happened in the past it was not severe. 

Janet and I leave for Israel soon to prepare for you. In the mean time if you have any questions please email Suzanne or Maria at Corporate Travel Service or call 1 (800) 727-1999 ext.121 or ext.150, respectively.

We are excited to see you in the Holy Land. After you go through customs remember to turn right and we'll meet you in the Tel Aviv Airport arrivals hall.


Shalom,
Steve & Janet Ray

PS: Here are some interesting and helpful websites you may be interested in:
www.Weather.com for weather forecasts in Tiberius, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, & everywhere else.
www.GoIsrael.com travel info
www.Magellans.com for helpful info and travel supplies
www.TravelSmith.com for helpful info and travel supplies
www.BiblePlaces.com pictures and info for hundreds of sites in the biblical world
www.inisrael.com virtual tours of sites in Israel
www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org Virtual Jewish Library