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BETHLEHEM – On Monday, November 13, 2017, on the occasion of a meeting of the International Board of Trustees of the Holy Family Hospital, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo celebrated a Mass for the Knights of the Order of Malta who, since 1985, have managed this hospital, currently a maternity hospital.

The friends of the French Hospital of Bethlehem, now the Holy Family Hospital, were present at the invitation of the Knights of the Order of Malta this Monday, November 13.

As every year when the members of the Board of Directors come to spend three days to review the activity of the past year and consider the year ahead, there’s a designated time of thanksgiving for all the miracles that take place in this hospital. Bishop Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, represented on that day Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, chaplain of the Order of Malta, as are all Latin Patriarchs of Jerusalem.

A religious order at the service of the weakest

The Order of Malta – a name commonly used for the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta – has worked since its inception with the sick. In the eleventh century, the first mission of the Order of St. John was to create and manage a hospital in Jerusalem. Subsequently, despite all the political crises in the different territories where it settled, this Order composed of religious and lay people was keen to create hospitals always open to all.

Today, the Order still tries to meet the needs of the weakest: Aid to refugees and victims of disasters, hospital and medical missions, social assistance, in all these areas the Order of Malta tries to make its contribution in caring for those who suffer and who are left behind by society.

For greater efficiency, the Sovereign Order, which is still made up of professed members of a religious order, has also created a network of national associations and foundations that support the logistics and financing of all projects.

The Bethlehem Hospital: Serving mothers and the most fragile babies

In Bethlehem, the Order of Malta does not own the physical structure. The Daughters of Charity acquired the land in 1882 and built a hospital and an orphanage there.[1] In 1985, the nuns were forced to close the hospital for economic and political reasons. We were then in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an attempt to maintain a useful service for the population, they entrusted the rehabilitation and management of the site to the Order of Malta, which decided to transform the general hospital into a maternity ward.

In 1990, the first baby was born, it would be the first on a list that, this year, has reached more than 75,000 first names.

And every year, the number of births tends to increase. Why? Because at the hospital of the Holy Family, the possibility of giving birth under excellent medical conditions and in a warm environment is given to every woman who presents herself. In the Palestinian territories, not everyone benefits from health insurance coverage, so medical care and the hospital package are the responsibility of the families. This is why everyone is asked to pay according to their abilities. This policy, which aims to be close to the evangelical ideal and which responds to the Order’s motto, Obsequium Paupere, [2] does not make it easy for managers to find nearly 50% of the operating budget each year.

The Holy Family Hospital is also the hospital of hope for all women who give birth prematurely. Thanks to its eighteen neonatal beds, infants born at twenty-five weeks old and at least five hundred grams are cared for and supervised to achieve a growth time that should have been in utero in optimal conditions.

To maintain a high technical and material level, the hospital annually raises projects that are funded by the various associations and foundations of the Order of Malta around the world.

Finally, after responding in 1995 to the request of an NGO that was helping Bedouin families living in precarious conditions in the Judean Desert, the HSH has set up a mobile unit that meets the women who are pregnant or have just given birth. Thus, even today, four times a week, the unit, which includes a gynecologist and a pediatrician, goes to the tent villages in the middle of the desert to follow the future mothers or their young babies.

A haven of peace

Quietness is not usually what best describes a hospital: hospitals sometimes look like anthills and health is often a source of worry. But in Bethlehem, beyond this normal hustle and anxiety that can give a birth that does not happen as well as one would like, patients and employees feel at peace.

Indeed, in an external context that constantly recalls the conflict that is exhausting Palestine, it is good to find a place where the religious question is not a problem. In a country that suffers from a certain poverty, it is nice to see that local professional skills echo the generosity of the richest countries. And when one is a parent, it is assuring to know that everything will be done for the child to come whatever the conditions in which he presents himself. For children who needed intensive care, the separation wall sometimes militates against making room for perfect coordination with the best Israeli hospitals. When cooperation goes beyond hate and fear, then we can keep hope. And a child who is born is always a hope.

Cécile Klos

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