A Holy Land pilgrimage with Scott and Kimberly Hahn

A Holy Land pilgrimage with Scott and Kimberly Hahn

Wanda Skowronska

Scott and Kimberly Hahn recently led a pilgrimage to the holy sites of Israel. Between 4-14 January 2013, four buses of praying, singing Catholics travelled from Mount Carmel to Nazareth, from Bethlehem to Jericho, from Jerusalem to the desert wilderness where Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days.

Organised by New York based Tours206, the group of 175 included eight priests, pilgrims from the US, England, Canada, Dubai and Australia (of whom there were four including myself).

Before his conversion Scott Hahn was a Presbyterian minister, teaching at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. In 1986 he entered the Catholic Church and his wife Kimberly, initially horrified, followed four years later. The Hahns have six children and eight grandchildren and continually give witness to their conversion. Currently professor of Biblical Theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, Scott Hahn was very much at home at the pilgrimage sites, as was Kimberly, and both gave inspiring lectures.

We saw the actual spot where the angel Gabriel visited the Virgin in Nazareth, the remains of the synagogue Jesus attended in Capernaum, Peter's mother-in-law's house where the paralysed man was cured after being lowered through the ceiling and Tabhga where Jesus cooked fish for the apostles after the resurrection. At Cana, many couples renewed their wedding vows, including the Hahns.

In the church on Mount Tabor, the earlier Canaanite sacrificial stone from which blood flowed is visible. Nearby are the plains of Megiddo (or Armageddon, yes that Armageddon). The climbing bus ride explained why the Scriptures refer to "going up" to Jerusalem - as the pilgrims of Jesus' day well knew, walking the 160 kms from Nazareth uphill to Jerusalem. In fact going down from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea (417 metres below sea level) by bus is so dramatic that one's ears pop, as in a descending plane.

Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel where the pilgrims stayed was off King David's Road, past King Solomon Hotel and before Melchizedek Street. Rare for Jerusalem it snowed heavily and the streets and palm trees were covered in white. Referring to nearby Gehenna Valley Scott Hahn quipped, "Was this a day when hell froze over?"

It is not widely known that Scott and Kimberly Hahn are Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. Along with other Knights in this group they received the pilgrim shell (an honour for pilgrim Knights) on 9 January from Bishop William Shomali, representing his Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and pledged to continue defending Christendom.

On such a pilgrimage, as many attest, one begins to connect the dots - for example, realising what a distance Galilee was from Jerusalem, where Bethlehem is in relation to Jerusalem (only six kms away) and how Bethesda is next door to Saint Anne's Church in the area where the infant Virgin Mary lived. One can stand at Gethsemane near the ancient olive trees gazing at Jerusalem over the Kidron Valley towards Caiaphas' house.

At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we saw how close the tomb of Jesus was to Calvary, the "hill" made out of stones rejected from the quarry nearby (both within the one church now). Along with Armenians, Ethiopians, Russians, Indians and Greeks, we bent to kiss the spot from which Christ rose from the dead, hearing the Byzantine chant of the Greek monks, the Gregorian chant of the Franciscans and Armenian chanting nearby. The muezzin (Muslim) call to prayer and the Jews' unceasing reading of the Torah were not far away. Western indifferentism is absent here - all are intensely involved in the world of the spirit

Hahn comes across as a modern day Saint Paul in his insightful exegeses of Scripture. Pointing out the connection between the Mass and the book of Revelation he said that its "Holy Holy Holy" prayer and 28 references to the "Lamb of God" are clear reflections of the heavenly liturgy.

The "it" in Christ's words on the cross - "It is consummated" - refers to the transformation of the Passover into the Eucharistic liturgy in whose "cup of consummation" we participate on earth. The original meaning of parousia was "presence", Hahn explained, and Christ's parousia in the Mass is where God's will is done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Among the pilgrims were converts, a retired intelligence officer, a soldier on leave from Afghanistan and students from Franciscan University. Hahn's eyes lit up when he heard some pilgrims were from Australia for there are plans afoot to bring him here within two years.

Wanda Skowronska, an Australian writer of Latvian descent, is a registered psychologist living in Sydney. She has taught at school and university level, is a regular contributor to religious publications, and author of Long Road to Rezekne (Trafford Publishing, 2007).

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