HOUSTON -- Dr. Scott Hahn and his wife Kimberly led several Houstonians and others from around the world on a 10-day pilgrimage to The Holy Land, a trip organized by Milanka Lachman, President of 206 Tours in New York.
This once-in-a-lifetime Pilgrimage took place January 4-14, 2013. 175 pilgrims (including eight priests) from the United States, England, Canada, Australia and Dubai joined Dr. Hahn. Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem also met with the group and presented the Pilgrim Shells to Msgr. Philip Halfacre of Illinois (North Central Lieutenancy USA) and Msgr. James Swiader of New York (Eastern Lieutenancy).
What made this pilgrimage so special? Without a doubt, it was the rare opportunity to travel along with Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn to the land where Jesus walked.
Dr. Scott Hahn’s conversion journey has touched many lives. He was a Presbyterian minister for several years and converted to Catholicism in 1986, his wife followed four years later. Dr. Hahn is now a professor and well known speaker in the United States and abroad. He lectures and writes extensively on various subjects relating to Sacred Scripture and the Catholic faith. He is a world-renowned theologian and has published about forty books including Rome Sweet Home and The Lamb’s Supper, Reason to Believe.
Dr. Hahn is a professor of Theology and Scripture at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio and President of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in the United States.
Travelers are often asked if it is safe to travel to Israel. The fact is, millions of tourists travel to and from Israel every year and return safely, inspired and wanting to return again and again. Many people are surprised to learn Israel has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
When I returned from my journey to The Holy Land, one of the first questions I was asked was 'what did you like best?' With a pilgrimage such as the one I experienced with new friends, it's nearly impossible to cite one thing because there were so many. These included our visit to the Garden of Gesethemane, a chance to sit in the room where the Last Supper took place, the Stations of the Cross while walking the Via Dolorosa, a ride on a wooden boat on the Sea of Galilee, a visit to Capernaum, the Wedding Church of Cana, the birthplace of Jesus in the Church of the Nativity, and a camel ride. I don't know how anyone could choose one thing that stood out because each had its' own special meaning.
Throughout the tour, we attended Daily Mass in the holiest places in the World. These included the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Church of St. Peter's House, Mass in Mount Tabor, Mass at St. Catherine's, Mass at Gethsemane, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre High Mass at the Tomb of Christ, and Mass at Emmaus. Masses were led by Rev. Msgr. James P. Swiader (Pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Garden City, NY); Fr. Jeff Woolnough (Parish Priest of St. Peter's Catholic Church, England); Fr. Carlos Rodgrigues, Chaplain at a Nursing Home in Stamford, CT); and Fr. John Amsberry (Pastor at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, Portland, OR).
The climax of each day was the honor of enjoying a wrap-up lecture from world renowned Theologian, Dr. Scott Hahn, who took our daily journeys to new heights when his lectures underscored the meaning of each place we visited. His words of wisdom from inside the Crypt of Capernaum, Qumran, Shrine of Our Lady Mount Carmel, Franciscan Chapel in Cana, inside Mt. Tabor and daily evening lectures had many pilgrims asking 'what can be better than this?'.
One indelible highlight engraved on the Souls of all who shared this experience had to be the High Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (at the Tomb of Jesus).
Other highlights included the opportunity to be in The Holy Land on the January 9th historic snowfall in Jerusalem, opportunity to be baptized at the Jordan River by Msgr. James Swiader, visit to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and another Dr. Scott Hahn lecture about his research on them, praying at the Rock of Agony, a visit to Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center located in the heart of the Jerusalem - one of the significant Catholic pilgrim's centered in the Holy Land currently belonging to the Vatican, a chance to float in the Dead Sea, a visit to the Dome of the Rock and the Golden Gates, and our group meeting with Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre with His Excellency, William Shomali, Bishop of Jerusalem.
His Excellency, Bishop William Shomali, Auxilary Bishop of Jerusalem was so kind to meet with Dr. Hahn's group. He presented the Pilgrim Shell to Equestrian Order members: Kimberly Hahn, Monsignor Swiader, and Father Halfacre. Milanka (Lady of the Holy Sepulchre) and Dr. Scott Hahn (Knight of the Holy Sepulchre) were proud to be a part of this wonderful ceremony experienced by the entire 206 Tours Group.
“It’s a great honor to belong to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and to support our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in the Holy land – amidst much suffering and conflict,” said Dr. Scott Hahn after his wife received the Pilgrim Shell from Patriarch Twal, Grand Prior of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Other memorable highlights of the Dr. Scott Hahn pilgrimage are described below:
Our first day was night was spent at the wonderful Dan Panorama Hotel on the Mediterranean Coast. Our pilgrimage began with a ride up the Mediterranean coast to Haifa to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Stella Maris. We also were able to see the Port of Israel fro the St. Louis Promenade which is the largest center of commerce in Israel.
After visiting the cave where Elijah lived, we enjoyed a lecture by Dr. Scott Hahn and lunch at the Carmelite Monastery.
After lunch, we departed for Nazareth, Mary’s home and the town where Jesus lived as a child.
Highlights included our celebration of Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation Church presided by Father John Amsberry, and a visit to the Byzantine Church of St. Joseph and Mary’s Well.
The day ended at The Wedding Church of Cana in Galilee, where Jesus performed His first miracle at the request of His mother of turning water into wine. At the Franciscan Chapel, dozens of 206 pilgrims had the opportunity to renew their wedding vows at this Holy place.
The group moved on to Tiberias and checked into the Leonardo Plaza Hotel. Tiberias was about to unfold the Ministry of Christ in Galilee.
Our first day in Tiberias began with a drive to Tabgha to visit the Church of the Loaves and Fish, where Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000. Next, we visited Capernaum, a fishing village where Jesus launched his Ministry. We celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Church, presided by Father Jeff Woolnough, and lecture by Dr. Scott Hahn. Pilgrims were excited to enjoy a lunch of the St. Peter Fish in Tannurim.
We also visited "Peter’s Primacy” where after His resurrection, Jesus met with His disciples and told Peter to “feed my lambs; feed my sheep”, confirming him to be the first Pope.
The next stop was Mount Beatitudes, where Jesus gave His great sermon. Here, we enjoyed a lecture by Dr. Scott Hahn in the Crypt.
We visited the Yigal Allon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar and learned about the exciting story, excavation and conservation of the ancient Galilee Boat, known as the celebrated Jesus Boat.
In 1986, Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fishermen from Kibbutz Ginosar, discovered the Ancient Galilee Boat buried in the mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The discovery of the boat rocked the archaeological and spiritual world. The Israel Antiquities Authority, assisted by many volunteers, rescued the boat in a remarkable eleven-day excavation. The boat was then submerged in a chemical bath for seven years before it could be displayed at the Yigal Allon Museum.
The day ended with an evening boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where the group enjoyed the beautiful setting of the landscape Jesus loved so much.
The next day, we drove to Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration, which gave us time to reflect on Christ’s Humanity and Divinity as we prepared for our journey to Jerusalem where Jesus was to suffer the crucifixion and resurrection.
Our group celebrated Mass at the Basilica presided by Father Carlos Rodgrigues.
Nexst on our itinerary was our tour of Jerusalem. We checked in at the wonderful Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, within walking distance to the Jaffa Gate. Jerusalem is a city where three faiths come together - Christian, Jewish and Islam and most residents speak at least three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
Jerusalem is also the capital of Israel and features many Holy sites including the Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, the Old City, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb. The Garden of Gethsemane is full of incredible olive trees believed to be more than 2,000 years old. It is believed Jesus came here with his disciples after the celebration of the Last Supper.
Our group visited the village of Ein Karem, birthplace of John the Baptist. According to tradition, it was here that Mary met her cousin Elizabeth and sang a hymn of praise, a song of gratitude to God which came to be known as the Magnificat.
The pinnacle of our first day in Jerusalem was our visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity is a Basilica located in Palestinian territory. It is considered to be the oldest continuously operating Christian church in the world and is still considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth.
Pilgrims had the opportunity to go down into the Grotto of the Nativity, which marks the spot of Jesus’ birth. Beneath the Altar, there is a silver star with the Latin inscription: HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary). Daily Mass was celebrated at St. Catherine’s Church at Sinai presided by Monsignor James Swiader.
After praying over the fourteen-point silver star beneath the altar in the Grotto of the Nativity which marks the spot believed to be the official birthplace of Jesus, we departed to see the cave at the Shepherds’ Field. The caves have soot marks of the fires that shepherd’s lit to keep warm while watching over their flocks.
The next day, our journey took us to Bethany, the Jordan River where we were re-baptized by Msgr. James Swiader, and the Mount of Temptation to learn about the early years in Jerusalem, the wilderness and The Baptism.
As we drove to the River Jordan, the site that marks where Saint John baptized Jesus, we stopped at Jericho, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, for lunch.
Daily Mass in Jericho was celebrated at the Good Shepherd Church, presided by Father John Amsberry. We then visited the Mount of Temptation and ended our day with a stop to see the Monastery of the Temptation, where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights, and then to Bethany, where Lazarus was raised from the dead.
Some of the most widely recognized places in The Holy Land in Jerusalem include the Mount of Olives, the Agony in the Garden at Gethsemane and the Way of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa.
During our visit in the Garden of Gethsemane, we had time to reflect on Jesus’ final night of life.
Our group entered the Church of All Nations to pray at the “Rock of Agony,” a section of bedrock identified as the place where Jesus prayed alone in the garden on the night of His arrest. Daily Mass was inside at Gethsemane presided by Father Jeff Woolnough.
Our journey continued to the Mount of Olives which provided spectators with a panoramic view of Jerusalem. We went to the Pater Noster shrine, where Jesus taught His disciples The Lord’s Prayer. Visitors are able to read the Lord's Prayer on Mosaics in over 165 different languages, with additional languages added each year.
We continued walking down the Palm Sunday Road and stopped at a beautiful little church, Dominus Flevit - “The Lord wept.” It was here that Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Dominus Flevit is a Roman Catholic Church located on the Mount of Olives facing the Old City of Jerusalem and Dome of the Rock. Dominus Flevit was fashioned in the shape of a teardrop to symbolize the tears of Jesus. While walking toward the city of Jerusalem, Jesus became so overwhelmed by the beauty of the Second Temple and predicted its future destruction, he wept openly.
One emotional stop of the day was our visit to the Via Dolorosa (The Way of the Cross) at the Antonia Fortress, where Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. From there, He was taken through the Old City of Jerusalem to be crucified.
Our group carried a cross as we walked the Stations of the Cross through the markets of the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Later that day, we had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with His Excellency, William Shomali, Bishop of Jerusalem and took part as an audience in a ceremony for members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre who received their Pilgrim Shells back at our Hotel.
The next day, we departed the Inbal Hotel at 5:30 a.m. to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for High Mass at the Tomb of Christ presided by Father Carlos Rodgrigues. Our day was then spent visiting Mt. Zion overlooking the Kidron Valley along which Jesus was taken as a prisoner to the house of the High Priest Caiaphas where He was interrogated and imprisoned.
Now called Peter in Gallicantu (“crowing rooster”), this beautiful Church commemorates Peter’s Denial of Christ, his repentance and then being forgiven by Jesus. Our group also dropped by the Upper Room, commemorating the Last Supper. In the afternoon, we visited Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and we enjoyed another lecture from Dr. Scott Hahn.
The group then traveled to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west.
With 33.7% salinity, it is nearly 9 times saltier then the ocean and animals cannot live here, nor will it allow you to swim or sink. Biblically, the Dead Sea was a place of refuge for King David. People also use the salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics.
Our week-long journey ended on another high note. The day featured a visit to Abu Ghosh, thought by some to be the site of Emmaus, where Christ appeared to the two disciples and gave the first Eucharist after the Resurrection.
We celebrated closing Mass of the Pilgrimage at the Church of Our Lady, Ark of the Covenant presided by Monsignor James Swiader. After Mass, we went to the Israel Museum to see an unbelievable Second Temple scale model for an overview of Jerusalem and then rounded out our day with a visit to the Western Wall (Wailing Wall). The Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, and for many, the most powerful site in all of Israel, the retaining wall of the Temple Mount (built by King Herod.)
The Holy Land experience is something all of us will carry with us for our entire lives.
If you have the opportunity to visit The Holy Land, chances are you will never read the Bible the same way again. The pages of the Bible come alive and take on an extra special meaning. The most important thing to note is when you travel the Holy Land, you are at a special peace that words cannot translate to paper. What are you waiting for?
Editor's Note: Thank you, Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn, for making my 10-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, unforgettable. Heartfelt gratitude to Milanka Lachman and the entire 206 Tours staff, for the personal touch to make sure everyone optimized their experience in The Holy Land.
For over twenty years, 206 Tours has brought many pilgrim groups to The Holy Land and also travels to Holy places such as the Shrines of Italy, Medjugorje, Fatima, Spain and a walking tour through El Camino. The personal attention to every detail by owner Milanka Lachman, Lady of the Holy Sepulchre, and her staff made this Dr. Scott Hahn trip an unforgettable experience for all.