Pope Benedict XVI visited the Melkite Cathedral of St. George in Amman, Jordan, on May 9. The last time a pope traveled to Jordan was in 2000, when Pope John Paul II went to Our Lady of Fatima Cathedral.
From the 1950s until 2007, Our Lady of Fatima was the seat of the Melkite Archeparchy of Petra and Philadelphia (Philadelphia being one of the old names for Amman). The Syrian Melkite Catholic Church is one of the largest Catholic groups in the Holy Land. Heading the archeparchy is Archbishop Yasser Ayyash.
Bishop Michel Assaf, who built the original cathedral, had a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. Because he believed that the devotion was not clearly understood in Jordan, he made it a point to name the cathedral in her honor.
The Blessed Mother appeared to three children beginning on May 13, 1917, in Fatima, Portugal.
Fatima, also, is an important name in the Islamic tradition because the daughter of Mohammed was named Fatima. Thus, to call a cathedral Our Lady of Fatima is certain to capture a Jordanian’s attention.
In fact, according to retired Archbishop George El-Murr, the name has “a little bit of shock value.”
In building Our Lady of Fatima, Bishop Assaf was financially assisted by his own family and by a parish of Greek Catholics in the United States. The designer of the cathedral was himself a Byzantine Catholic who had experience designing oriental churches. As a result, both the interior and exterior of the cathedral reflect oriental design.
All baptized Catholics, including Latin Rite Catholics, are welcome to come to Our Lady of Fatima and participate in the Eastern style of liturgical prayer. Arabic is the language of the liturgy. Communion is distributed under both species, by intinction rather than by drinking from the chalice. The priest partly dips the consecrated leavened bread, cut into small pieces, into the Precious Blood and places it on the tongue of the recipient.
There are seven Greek Catholic churches in Amman serving the spiritual needs of 31,000 faithful. It is considered a sign of the religious fervor of the Greek Catholic population that such a large number of Greek Catholic churches are in Amman.
Our Lady of Fatima has a simple limestone design with a bell tower at the right as one faces the church and an arcade forming the front entrance.
A staircase comes to the center of the church from both sides, and on the front-facing wall of the staircase is a shrine of Our Lady of Fatima behind an iron grate.
One is impressed by the simplicity of the design and by the three frontal archways that represent the Trinity. A Byzantine dome is located over the rear of the church and represents the dome of heaven over the sanctuary; the dome is topped with a golden cross. The bell tower is also capped by a dome and cross. The 65-foot tower houses one large bell that is rung three-quarters of an hour before Mass.
Immediately inside the church are two icons on opposing walls. One is an icon of St. Elijah being fed by the ravens on Mount Sinai. Directly opposite is an icon of St. Thérèse, the Little Flower. Both are framed in elaborate gilded wooden frames.
At the top of the iconostasis (the icon screen setting off the sanctuary) are icons of the Twelve Apostles. There is a crystal chandelier above the altar and above that is the “dome of heaven,” which corresponds to the exterior dome. Also visible is an icon of Our Lady of Fatima with the three children to whom she appeared.
Also kept behind the iconostasis is a chalice and paten that Pope John Paul II presented to Archbishop El-Murr when he visited in 2000.
Unity and Dialogue
The church, which is located in the heart of downtown, has been a center of activity for Greek Catholics. Conversations between Catholics who have differing backgrounds have taken place here during the social get-together that follows the Sunday Mass. Archbishop El-Murr has also delegated one of his cathedral priests, Father Nabil Haddad, to head up an organization that promotes dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
An activity that is of particular importance is the careful introduction and training of young people in Scripture. One of the priests meets with a study group on Monday evenings.
The church has also hosted regular gatherings of all of Amman’s Greek Catholic priests. Archbishop El-Murr has maintained that by exchanging views and sharing insights the priests will learn from one another, leading to a stronger sense of unity in the way the Christian life is lived.
Joseph Albino writes
from Syracuse, New York.
Church of Our Lady of Fatima
Code Postal 11181
Tel. 011-962-6-4624757, 011-962-6-4628560
Fax: International 011-962-6-4652876
Planning Your Visit
There are three Masses each Sunday, including 9 and 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Daily Mass is at 7:50 a.m. Vespers are sung each Saturday evening, usually about 6 p.m., depending on the season. Confessions are heard on Sundays.
To get to the church from the Queen Alia Intentional Airport in Amman, take a taxi to what is called the First Circle.