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A Beam of Light Leads to a Worldwide Java Jolt

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Holy Joe Cafe's first location, at Sather Air Force Base in Baghdad, Iraq.

As Tom Jastermsky likes to say, "Sometimes a small cup of coffee can make a big difference."

But as he himself must admit — and as thousands of United States troops around the world can now attest — sometimes a big difference can make a small cup of coffee.

Let's start with that. For Tom, the big difference that transformed his life can be pinpointed back to a rainy day in 2003 when, practically on a lark, he visited the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

He was in town checking out the Norman Rockwell Museum and was not feeling well. For months, he had been suffering from ill health, and doctors had been unsuccessful in providing him with answers or alleviation.

After the visit to the museum, he figured, "I'll go check out that Shrine up the hill and see what that's all about. It couldn't hurt."

He parked his car and scampered through a downpour and into the Our Lady of Mercy Candle Shrine, and that's where things got weird.

He paused by the bulwark of votive candles and decided to light one. But just as he set flame to a wooden stick to light a candle, a beam of light shot through a stained-glass window and, as he says, "engulfed me." It engulfed him not only with light, but with a sense of calm as well.

"Lord," he prayed, "if You heal me, just use me to do whatever You need to do."

He lit the candle, snuffed out the wooden stick, and the beam of light was gone.

"I was like, 'Wow, what just happened here?'"

You know what happens next. Within days, all of his symptoms disappeared, never to be seen again.

Oh, and by the way, that stained-glass window depicts figures surrounding a person in bed and contains the etched words, "Comfort the sick."

And one more thing: That beam of light on that rainy day gave him a sunburn on his face that lasted for days.

Fast forward to Pentecost Sunday 2006 when he felt divinely prompted to uphold that promise he made to God in the candle shine. He was attending a service at his own church, First Congregational Church in Wallingford, Connecticut, when the announcement was made that a fellow church member, an Air Force chaplain deployed in Iraq, was seeking donations of coffee.

Tom heard in his heart the words "This is you."

And so began Holy Joe's Café, an all-volunteer, certified 501(c)(3) non-profit ecumenical ministry that provides U.S. military chaplains in 70 countries with fresh, free coffee.

Since its founding, some 4,100 chaplains of all faiths use the coffee to enhance their "ministry of presence," says Tom, who serves as Holy Joe's executive director. "This relaxing and informal setting gives soldiers an opportunity to decompress, relax, and speak with a chaplain, while also enjoying a good cup of coffee."

Holy Joe's provided Marian U.S. Army Chaplain Fr. Donald Van Alstyne, MIC, with everything he needed for a coffee ministry he established in Afghanistan in 2012.

"The soldiers in this work space are under pressure 24/7, so these items go a long way," says Fr. Don.

In military camps, such cafes have literally become godsends - where chaplains connect with the troops and provide information on what religious services are offered, including prayer groups and Bible studies.

The Marians are urging Marian Helpers to financially support the efforts of Holy Joe's. The funds go directly to the purchase of Mystic Monk Coffee, roasted by the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in Wyoming, and also to help with shipping costs. Until recently, Holy Joe's was shipping coffee free of charge, but that shipping company was sold.

Holy Joe's ships about 2,700 pallets of coffee a year. That equals about 32.4-million cups of coffee annually. But that's still not enough to meet demands.

One more thing: Since that day in the candle shrine, the Lord has been tugging at Tom's heart about another matter. Tom is now in the process of becoming Catholic.

To support Holy Joe's, please visit HolyJoes.org or call (203) 859-0031.

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