Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Leith, a 9-year-old whose parents could not care for him, holds the hand of Fr. Hugo Fabian inside Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Anjara in northern Jordan. After the shrine’s statue wept blood, the parish stepped up its outreach to destitute children, disabled youngsters, prisoners and prostitutes.
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Leith, a 9-year-old whose parents could not care for him, holds the hand of Fr. Hugo Fabian inside Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Anjara in northern Jordan. After the shrine’s statue wept blood, the parish stepped up its outreach to destitute children, disabled youngsters, prisoners and prostitutes.
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ANJARA, Jordan — In the Gilead Mountains of northern Jordan, a statue of Mary cried human blood in 2010. Instead of cashing in on religious tourism, Our Lady of the Visitation Parish has responded with zealous outreach to people on the margins.

The simple stone church is located in a region where, legend has it, Jesus and Mary stayed in a cave on a trek from Jerusalem to Galilee. The prophet Elijah was born in these mountains, where white pines dot the landscape, sparse to the eyes of an Oregonian, but lush by Middle East standards. King David sought refuge here when his son Absalom pursued with patricidal intent.

Our Lady of the Mount Shrine, adjacent to the church, is the only official shrine to Mary in Jordan, which is more than 90 percent Muslim.

Here’s how the shrine began: In the 1850s, an Italian priest passed through the area and reported back to his superiors that there were many Christians, but no clergy. That prompted a mission. The shrine dates to the 1930s, when another cleric brought a wooden statue of Mary from Jerusalem, where it had been mostly forgotten. Made in Italy, it’s from the early 19th century. Many small miracles began — healings, favors and the like. The amazed priest built a simple shrine, which has been expanded over the decades, all centered on the statue.

On May 6, 2010, an Incarnate Word nun and three villagers were cleaning the shrine. They reported that the face of Mary became real. The eyes closed and a red tear came from each. The local bishop investigated the reports, included scientists, and declared a miracle.

“Why did Mary cry? For several reasons,” says Father Hugo Fabian, an Argentinian member of the Congregation of the Incarnate Word. Shortly after the miracle, the Arab spring began with harsh consequences for some Christians. Then ISIS emerged and drove Christians out of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

“Of course for our Blessed Mother, this is all very difficult,” Father Fabian says. “The Virgin Mary cries with us and for us.”

Something about the miracle compelled parish leaders to begin serving more people in more ways.

There was already a parish school, where half the student body is Muslim. But since 2010, a prison ministry has begun. Then Father Fabian attended a Vatican symposium on human trafficking and established an outreach to prostitutes in Anjara.

Progress has been slow Christians in the Middle East have the notion that it’s best to stay away from “bad people.” Slowly, Father Fabian is teaching people that ministering to prisoners and prostitutes is on track with what Jesus taught.

An easier sell: the parish is housing, feeding and schooling 36 children who might otherwise be living on the street. An Arab Christian community in Chicago is helping pay the bills. On the parish agenda is housing and other support for Syrian Christian refugees. There is also a physical therapy clinic for youngsters with disabilities.

One Anjara family found itself in a quandary. The father is from the United States and the mother from Jordan; by national law, the children are not Jordanian citizens, even though they were born in Amman. The mother has fallen ill and the father is out of touch. The bishop asked Father Fabian if the parish would raise the four children.   

The Sunday collection at the parish nets only about $50 per week; the parish depends on donations from all over the world.