Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, Palestine Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, Palestine 

Bethlehem’s Holy Family Maternity Hospital: a birthplace of hope

Just 1500 steps from the grotto where Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Order of Malta’s Holy Family Hospital continues to provide excellent care to mothers and babies of all creeds and needs. As Christmas approaches in this holy place, the Hospital prepares to deliver its 100,000th baby!

By Linda Bordoni

The Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, Palestine, is a truly special place. Located just steps away from the birthplace of Christ, the Order of Malta-run maternity and neonatal critical care centre serves poor and at-risk women, infants and children throughout the region.

For the over 30 years since it became a specialized maternity unit, the area where the Hospital operates has been one of conflict and poverty, of refugee camps and remote desert villages. Notwithstanding the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, it continues to offer state-of-the-art neonatal care and support to families and it is where about 90% of all Bethlehem's infants are born.

Michele Burke Bowe, Ambassador for the Order of Malta to Palestine and member of the Board of Directors of the Hospital, says that as Christmas approaches in this truly special town that is Bethlehem, “We just open our arms and then afterwards we figure out how we're going to pay, hoping that our generous donors will stand up and help us meet these increased needs of this post-pandemic time, which has deep roots in Bethlehem.”

“Our motto is: we serve everyone without regard to need or creed.”

This Chrismas season is perhaps more special than usual for the Hospital she says, as the busy staff is awaiting the birth of baby number 100,000:

“We're so excited about that 100,000th baby! Each day we get a little closer to the mark as we're delivering more than a dozen babies a day.”

Ambassador Bowe in Palestine
Ambassador Bowe in Palestine

Bowe, who also serves as the President of Holy Family Hospital Foundation, one of the supporters of the hospital, says that Bethlehem was really devastated by the pandemic that triggered both an economic crisis and a humanitarian crisis. 

Listen to the interview with Ambassador Michele Burke Bowe

She explains that the town, which is economically completely dependent on pilgrimages and tourism, was emptied of all visitors for the duration of the emergency.

“So for two years 90% of the workforce was left without salaries. They sold their cars, they sold their household goods. It’s going to take a generation for them to be able to recover from that,” she adds.

One devastating reality, the Ambassador notes, is that many women were arriving at the hospital to deliver their babies without having eaten for one or two days. Some of them hadn't eaten because they had saved their food for their already-born children, and some just didn't have any food at all, “and this had a devastating effect on the health of the babies.”

“We've had more than double the number of premature babies this year, which makes it very staff intensive and extremely expensive to run this NICU (Neonatal intensive care unit).”

The Hospital and its Outreach Clinics, whose mission is to provide care to all regardless of religion, ethnicity or ability to pay, stand firm in their pledge to never turn anyone away.

The Holy Family Maternity Hospital in Bethlehem
The Holy Family Maternity Hospital in Bethlehem

Providing jobs to Palestinians

“We just march forward. We do our very best,” says Ambassador Bowe also highlighting the fact that apart from providing health care, the Hospital is the second largest employer in Bethlehem and plays a crucial role in the community providing jobs to Palestinians.

She says all the staff is Palestinian, and at a time in which the community is still dealing with Covid, solidarity is the rule of thumb: “Everybody has been covering for each other and working extra.”

“Children are sick, home from school,” someone has to take care of them, so aunties are taking care of their nieces and nephews… Bethlehem is the place where everybody just pulls together,” she exclaims.

“They make their tables longer, open their doors and take care of their nieces and nephews as well as their children who live in the same building. So it's a story of many hands making the work light, but our hospital is really pushed to the edge.”

Since March of 2022, Bowe continues, it has been a very critical time in terms of finances and terms of the staff "working almost nonstop, with no brakes."

Ambassador Burke Bowe with two Palestinian women in Bethlehem
Ambassador Burke Bowe with two Palestinian women in Bethlehem

A Christmas wish

“I always ask for the same thing for every Christmas, Ambassador Bowe says noting that Bethlehem represents Christmas for millions of Christmas throughout the world.

“For this Christmas, what I would really like would be peace for Bethlehem, for adequate finances to be able to pay our employees on time, and to take care of these tiny little 1 and 2-pound babies.”

The assistance and care offered by the Order of Malta stretch beyond the actual medical care provided at birth, but aim to medical costs and basic needs of people who can't afford them.

"We want to be able to give these fathers dignity when they bring home their newborn babies," she says, "allow them to leave the hospital in a celebratory mood, with their dignity intact."

Logo of Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation
Logo of Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation

Help Bethlehem 

Ambassador Burke Bowe speaks with relief at the fact that pilgrims and tourists are coming back to Bethlehem after the Covid closures but notes that to restart the economy, the city needs them to stay a while, “to buy some things to bring home for their loved ones, to enjoy some of the wonderful hospitality and delicious food,” instead of just making a quick tour to the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds’ Fields before heading back to Jerusalem.

“Young men and women who have thoughts of going to university no longer can, families can't repurchase cars that they've sold,” she says observing that it will take at least a generation to overcome the economic effects of the pandemic.

“People need to come to Bethlehem, stay in Bethlehem and enjoy the beautiful nighttime where things are quiet, the stars are shining, and just think about being under the same sky as the Holy Family, the three Kings and King David. It's a real blessing to be in Bethlehem at night.”

Christmas Appeal

“So please tell your friends this story,” Bowe says, “share this interview and go to our website: we have a recent video up on the front page. It's just absolutely beautiful.”

The website also offers the possibility of donating to the Holy Family Hospital. It’s a chance to give a meaningful gift to someone for Christmas by making a donation in their name "to help a pregnant woman, to help a man conserve his dignity by being able to go home without crippling healthcare bills,  to sponsor the delivery of a baby in Bethlehem."

“What could be more hopeful and more beautiful than receiving the gift of knowing that you've delivered a baby in Bethlehem, just 1,500-foot steps from the manger where Jesus was placed after he was born?”

A new born baby at the Holy Family Hospital
A new born baby at the Holy Family Hospital

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09 December 2022, 16:42