Argentine priest juggles priorities at Jordanian parish

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

ANJARA, Jordan (CNS) — Argentine Incarnate Word Father Hugo Alaniz would like to build a new shrine to Our Lady of the Mount, a statue that might have miraculous powers, but he has other priorities.

In this town of about 20,000, with only 1,000 Catholics, Father Alaniz believes it is more important to have the Muslims and Christians mingle with each other.

At Our Lady of the Mount Parish, the school of about 220 students is split evenly between Christians and Muslims. They study together, but they do not play together. In the schoolyard, members of the two faiths keep to their own sides.

Father Alaniz, though, has a plan to at least partially rectify that. He is offering group lessons in violin and guitar after classes so the children can "play" together in another sense.

Some of the female Muslim students come from what he describes as unsatisfactory home lives. But once they reach age 18, they are usually forced to return to their families, where parents will arrange marriages to others in their clan, sometimes even cousins.

"So this creates a new problem," Father Alaniz said.

His solution, albeit a temporary one: Enroll the young women in college. "That way they have another five years" away from the life that compelled them to enroll at Our Lady of the Mount School in the first place — and, implicitly, with more practical and social skills to evade the kind of life their family has designed for them.

Father Alaniz also keeps busy with his prison ministry.

"If you go to prison in Argentina, it is a bad thing," he said, stopping occasionally at times to get help from another English-Spanish bilingual speaker to find the right phrase in English, "but here, when you go to prison, it is terrible."

The priest said being in prison is an occasion of shame for the prisoner’s family. The prisoner does not get any visitors, and his confinement has wide-ranging repercussions in society outside the prison, to the point where his sisters will be unable to be married due to the stigma.

Father Alaniz cannot erase social stigma, but he does go to the prison to visit prisoners from Anjara.

Still, there’s that idea of a shrine.

The statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus that sits behind the altar in the church sanctuary wept five years ago. Father Alaniz did not see it himself, but he trusts the word of eight women from the parish who told him what they saw.

The first woman who spotted something noticed that the statue’s face looked "normal," as if it were a human’s, Father Alaniz said. Then "the Virgin closed her eyes" and cried two red tears, one from each eye.

Praying to Our Lady of the Mount in the years since has brought many healings, said Father Alaniz. In one case three years ago, the parents of an 11-year-old child traveled from Syria to prepare for an operation for the child, who was diagnosed with cancer.

"We prayed together," Father Alaniz recalls. "Five days later … they’re very happy because this time the hospital makes another test, and this time there’s nothing. Thank God."


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