On a rainy December night in Bethlehem, a young mother will go into labor. Months ago, when she learned of her latest pregnancy, like Our Blessed Mother so long ago, she was troubled. This modern mother faces challenges much like those of Mary, but many new challenges as well in the troubled region of the West Bank. She has little money — not even a home to call her own since her husband lost his job. The couple, with their four older children, lives in a refugee camp with many other families. Unlike most mothers in the United States, pre-natal care is not often readily accessible or affordable since the region has neither a social welfare system nor health insurance.
Yet, she will not despair in this difficult situation. Unlike Our Blessed Mother, who found no room in the inn where travelers lodged, who gave birth to Our Lord under the most humble conditions, this young mother has a place to turn. Like many women in the Bethlehem region, this mother knows she will find help through the "beacon of hope," Holy Family Hospital.
According to the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation's website, Holy Family Hospital, an obstetrical/gynecological facility just 500 yards from the traditional site of Jesus' birth, is the only hospital in the region that can handle the complicated medical conditions of women living in extreme poverty and under the shadow of political strife which stalks the birthplace of the "Prince of Peace." The Foundation, located in Washington, D.C., was organized in 1997, exclusively to generate and distribute funds for the operating expenses of Holy Family Hospital. Holy Family Hospital serves everyone who comes in seeking care, says Colleen Marotta, Executive Director of the Foundation, and "has room at the inn for everyone, regardless of religion, race, or financial status." This open policy means merely 33% of the cost of operations is paid by patients. The rest comes from the generosity of individuals, parishes and foundations.
The current facility has a rich history — for nearly a century the French Daughters of Charity ran a General Hospital, but in 1985 were forced to close because of insufficient funding. In 1990, the Order of Malta refurbished a portion of the old General Hospital and converted the facility into a modern, well-equipped maternity unit that meets Western standards of care. His Holiness Pope John Paul II named Holy Family Hospital a top priority for the new millennium, a testament to the importance of a Christian presence in the Holy Land, caring for God's "little ones".
In the United States, we can barely imagine the difficulty expectant mothers in the Holy Land face as they bring new life into the world. We think of difficult travel through the desert in Biblical times, but overlook the even greater challenge this troubled region imposes on its citizens today. A trip that would take 20 minutes in the U.S. might require over four hours for a woman walking and talking her way through check points or waiting through curfews. Regular pre-natal care would certainly present a challenge. And active labor? I shudder to think of the trip to the hospital.
The young mother described above is likely to know about Holy Family Hospital by word of mouth. She would also know of Holy Family Hospital through their educational outreach and mobile outreach clinic. In a culture with no social welfare system, extreme poverty, and astronomical unemployment levels, mere day-to-day survival is a challenge. Consequently, people receive little education about health care. Holy Family Hospital airs educational programs on local television networks about childbirth, nutrition, and childcare. These programs are often the first exposure residents have had to this information.
Their reputation, state of the art facilities and, above all, personalized, compassionate care, draws 60% of expectant mothers in the Bethlehem region to choose to have their babies there. A more troubling statistic, Marotta notes, is 60% of Holy Family Hospital's maternity patients come to the hospital in active labor, without having received any pre-natal care and suffering from malnutrition. The lack of care comes at a price — 15% of the babies are born prematurely and require extended hospital care in the neo-natal intensive care unit — the only one the region.
To combat these health-care problems, Holy Family Hospital takes the hospital to its patients in the form of a mobile outreach clinic. Every week, the van goes out into the desert. Patients climb over hilltops to receive medicine and see healthcare providers.
In addition, Marotta describes services at the hospital which go beyond basic maternity care. Hospital professionals are native residents of Bethlehem, so they know and are sensitive to cultural and religious issues of those under their care. "The level of love and care doctors and nurses are providing" is unparalleled in the region, she says. Services are expanding to include early screening for breast cancer, simple health instruction, and training for women to better understand their bodies.
The young mother from a refugee camp would be welcomed at Holy Family Hospital. A social worker from the hospital would sit with her and discuss her personal and economic situation to determine whether she qualifies for the "Poor Case Fund" to cover some or all of her healthcare expenses. In an otherwise chaotic and troubled world, she would know her baby would be delivered in a safe, clean, caring environment.
Marotta sees the hospital as a beacon of hope for the expectant mothers and fathers, "Like Mary and Joseph, these families are on journey to find a place of refuge, a place of promise, a place where their babies can be delivered safely. In all of the Bethlehem region, only one place is their destination — Holy Family Hospital".
The Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation is U.S.-based and serves as a modern day Magi bringing this gift of life to the poor women and infants of the West Bank by raising the needed funds to meet the operational expenses of the hospital. This year the foundation has disbursed $550,000 to the hospital, ensuring care for the poor and vulnerable in the birthplace of the Prince of Peace. For more information about The Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation, please visit their website www.birthplaceofhope.org.
In Bethlehem, a baby boy will be born to a young mother on Christmas under the tender care of the Holy Family at Holy Family Hospital. For her and her precious infant, there will be room in the inn.