Mission in Motion
Cradling Christianity was founded in 2006 by a small group of Catholics from Columbus, Ohio. Each founding member participated in a group pilgrimage, not knowing one another initially. During their travels, the group grew very close through their shared experiences. Being from the same general region, this small group returned home forever changed after their journey to the Holy Land. Realizing they could not resume their normal lives without acting to bring awareness, hope and change to the struggling Christians they met on their journey, this group of pilgrims banded together to form an organization called Cradling Christianity. Still operating today, its mission is to raise funds for the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land to provide education, housing and employment to Christians in the Holy Land.
To gain a deeper understanding of the history of Cradling Christianity, we interviewed founding members Gene and Judith Alfonsi from Dublin, Ohio.
Founding Members Gene and Judith Alfonsi: Then and Now
Gene and Judy fell in love and married in 1990. Judy, a devout Catholic, grew up in a large family of eight, and played an instrumental role in her husband Gene’s faith walk over the years. Together they have five children and five grandchildren.
They had an opportunity to join the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and participated in their first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, led by tour guide Fr. Peter F. Vasko. The Alfonsi’s spent a special, very memorable week with 50 other pilgrims in the Holy Land. Although this was the first time getting to know each other, 30 of the 52 pilgrims continued on together the week after their pilgrimage to spend Holy Week in Rome, led by Bishop Thomas Paprocki from Springfield, Illinois. Since their 2006 pilgrimage, the Alfonsi’s have become very dear friends with Father Peter.
This group of pilgrims embraced one other and grew very close during their time together. The Alfonsi’s describe their pilgrimage as “a selfless, enlightening experience. You can read about the Holy Land, but to have a chance to go in person is such an incredible eye-opener. It makes the Bible so real.”
The Alfonsi’s have traveled extensively, but their Holy Land pilgrimage was unlike any other experience. Indeed, it was the trip of their lifetime; and like many others who have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Gene and Judy were left with a lasting impression. The pilgrimage changed their perspective of the Holy Land and Catholicism. They reflected, “It was an enlightening experience seeing the struggle in the people’s lives there; God put us there for a reason. We aren’t supposed to just come home and forget.” The deep bond formed between a dozen or so Columbus-based pilgrims, created a tight nucleus that led to the forming of Cradling Christianity.
Cradling Christianity Launches
After Gene and Judy returned home, they paused to reflect on what they saw, learned and felt over the past weeks of their travels. Not knowing what steps to take, or how to move forward, they called their group of local pilgrims, and everyone was excited to join in and help. Each pilgrim in the group saw firsthand the struggle our brothers and sisters are experiencing, as well as the plight of the Christians in the Holy Land. They knew they needed to do something to curb the stem of the emigration. Committee members sat down and brainstormed ideas, and Cradling Christianity was birthed. Everyone agreed that their time in the Holy Land allowed them to deepen their faith and hold these Christians close by their hearts. Hence, the fundraiser named Cradling Christianity began.
The Columbus-based pilgrims held their initial gathering in May 2006. They started with just a small fundraising dinner event and invited Fr. Peter to speak and bring an awareness of life in the Holy Land. The group’s mission for this event was to raise funds and awareness for the largest issues they encountered for Holy Land: lack of employment, housing and other critical humanitarian programs.
Development Over the Years
The second event was held at Pontifical College Josephinum, Roman Catholic Seminary in Columbus. The third year the event grew and moved to a parish center. A separate mass beginning at 5pm was uniquely held prior to the fundraising dinner, with Fr. Peter F. Vasko as the celebrant.
Attendance at the events continued growing year after year. Since each founding pilgrim member came from different parishes, each pilgrim invited their own clergy. Over the years, they gained more recognition and eventually had over 10 clergy in attendance.
For several years Cradling Christianity offered silent auctions featuring only religious items, primarily from the Holy Land. Many guests looked forward to this annual fall event as it gave them an opportunity to purchase gifts from the selection of one-of-a-kind relics. Gene and Judy donated a pilgrimage for a raffle on Cradling Christianity’s 10th anniversary, raising over $10,000.
Generating awareness to local parishes, friends and the community can be challenging, and it is largely in part to the grassroots group of individual donors that has earned Cradling Christianity so much success. To date, Cradling Christianity has raised over $1 million for Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.
Adding a personal touch to their outreach has been a key to the region’s success. Judy and committee members in the forming years spent countless hours hand-addressing invitations and envelopes, adding notes to sponsorship requests to give a personalized element to those invitations. This effort has brought notable success through the initial years of the annual Cradling Christianity events.
In their own small way, this group of dedicated pilgrims has accomplished their mission of creating awareness of the Holy Land by making Cradling Christianity a recognized name and organization by parishes and clergy. They have been able to establish a brand identity by planting a seed. With or without events, people are able to support FFHL as a byproduct of what Cradling Christianity has created in Columbus, Ohio. Cradling Christianity has also sponsored numerous scholarship students through FFHL’s University Scholarship Program over the years.
Gene and Judy Alfonsi are most proud of the money Cradling Christianity has raised to date and are very excited to welcome Dee and Kris Pellissier as co-chairs for the next fundraising dinner. The Pellissier’s will serve as the sixth chairs since the organization’s founding. The Pellissier's have also had the privilege of attending a pilgrimage with Fr. Peter F. Vasko and have been touched first-hand by that experience.
Of the original group of founding members, sadly three have since passed away, and a only handful are still active on the committee. Previous chairs Don and Monica Brown, Chuck and Ardith Mers, Charles and Venetia Bramlage, Russ and Pat Howard with Gene and Judy played an integral part in the overall success of Cradling Christianity through their gift of time, talent and treasure.
Judy is a faith-driven leader, and Gene leads with a business mindset. Gene has served as a Board Member for Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land since 2010, and currently acts as part of the finance committee. The Alfonsi’s believe that if each person does their part to serve their fellow brothers and sisters, we can create positive change in our world.
FFHL is honored to have such dedicated volunteer leaders who believe and support our mission and purpose to preserve the Living Stones of the Holy Land. The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land welcomes new volunteers and financial supporters. If you are interested in learning more about our mission, joining an upcoming pilgrimage, or finding out how you can help stem the Christian exodus in the Holy Land, please email: [email protected].