Holy Family Hospital stands ready to care for newborns and mothers despite the war
In the traditional Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis reiterated his call for peace. “Our hearts are in Bethlehem” he cried out while cautioning against the pursuit of worldly success and power. In the city of Bethlehem, each December, Manger Square hosts a life-size nativity scene, illuminated by stars and a three-story Christmas tree. Liturgical choirs perform most nights, and the Christmas market draws visitors -Christian and Muslim alike- from all over the region and around the world. This year is different. “Bethlehem is locked down behind the Israeli separation wall and many additional manned checkpoints. Most of the workforce has no salaries or work because of the closure and the absence of pilgrimages. While the war is over 40 miles away, Bethlehem suffers not from fighting or bombing, but from the halted economy” says Michèle Bowe, Ambassador of the Sovereign Order of Malta to Palestine.
Despite the cancellation of nearly all Christmas festivities by authorities, Catholics gathered at the Church of the Nativity last Sunday for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
“This year Christmas is very much like that first Christmas 2,000 years ago. No gifts, no celebrations, no fireworks, or festivities– just a baby born on a deep winter night under a bright star. The families of Bethlehem will celebrate Christmas with Mass, prayer and sacrifice as requested by the Patriarchs. Christmas will be somber, reflecting on the recent events in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. But Christmas will not be without hope” explains Ambassador Bowe.
Only a few steps away, the Holy Family Hospital is taking care of babies and mothers as it has done for the past 34 years delivering over 4,600 babies each year. Two 12-hour shifts are being implemented to limit staff travel. Nurses and doctors who live far out of the city have housing provided. Every measure is taken to ensure that the hospital’s personnel remain safe. The number of births has slightly decreased in the past two months, with nearly 4,000 babies born in 2023. Likewise, there has been a fall in the number of consultations due to the difficulty of the patients living outside the urban area of Bethlehem to access the hospital.
“The midwives, nurses and doctors stand ready to care for the most complicated deliveries and the mothers know to expect the very best care delivered without regard to need or creed. Some mothers, because of travel restrictions, are not able to reach the Hospital to deliver their babies as travel is dangerous at night. They will deliver at home, without medical care” says Michèle Bowe, highlighting the risk associated with home births and lack of medical assistance, one of the many consequences of the war.
Over 70% of the Bethlehem population was born at Holy Family Hospital, today the largest employer and trainer of medical professionals of the whole region. It is the only hospital in the region medically equipped to deliver babies born before 32 weeks. Holy Family Hospital is often asked to accept the Bethlehem region’s most challenging medical cases. As a result, approximately 9% of all newborns delivered at the Hospital require neonatal intensive care.