Bethlehem, the birthplace of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, will always be a hallowed place for Christians. It is full of "bright spots" to visit while on pilgrimage, for example. I'd like to write about two bright spots in particular.
First, there is a new bright spot in Bethlehem, and it arrived just in time for Advent and Christmas! A fragment of wood—believed to be part of the crib where the Virgin Mary laid Jesus that first Christmas morning over 2,000 years ago—came back to the Holy Land from the Vatican on November 30, 2019.
The ancient artifact was originally gifted by Saint Sophronius to Pope Theodore I in the 7th century. Since then, it has been located with the rest of the relics of the wooden crib in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Pope Francis ordered the return of the small relic after a request was made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a recent visit to the Vatican.
After a brief display in Jerusalem, its return was celebrated by a procession and Mass at its new home at St. Catherine's Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem.
Father Francesco Patton of the Holy Land said that the entire crib was considered too fragile to move, but the small wooden relic is an important symbol that will now be permanently enshrined in Bethlehem.
Another "bright spot" in Bethlehem—one that is just 1,500 steps from the precious relic's new home—is Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem. Guided by the values and traditions of the Catholic Church, the Daughters of Charity, and the Order of Malta, Holy Family Hospital is a beloved institution in which Christians and Muslims serve the neediest of families in the region.
Since 1989, when Pope John Paul II requested that the Order of Malta take over the operation and management of the hospital, it was converted into a specialized maternity unit. Holy Family Hospital has delivered over 85,000 babies.
Referring to the relic of Jesus's crib, Michele Burke Bowe, president of the Holy Family Hospital Foundation, said, "There is a bright spot in Bethlehem and we are so encouraged by this gift to the Holy Land."
The Holy Family Hospital Foundation works tirelessly to support Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem. Incorporated in 1997, the Foundation has spent the past twenty years bringing essential medical care to families throughout the Holy Land. As a primary work of the Order of Malta—the world’s oldest Christian charity—the Foundation serves to promote Catholic values of preserving life, fostering peace, and bringing hope to those without a voice. The Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation, whose mission is to give life, peace, and hope in the Holy Land, makes possible the continuing work of this life-giving hospital.
Truly a beacon of light, Holy Family Hospital serves mostly poor and at-risk women, infants, and children, not only throughout the West Bank, but in remote desert villages and in United Nations refugee camps in the region. No one is turned away.
In a recent phone call, Bowe said that they anticipate 4,700 births this year alone. Yet due to the present conflict in the region and the political climate, civil servants are paid only half their salary. "People are getting poorer, yet it is more vital than ever that we continue to provide this most important service."
This season of gift-giving is a wonderful opportunity to offer prayer, hope, and financial help to the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem.
How can we help today? There are many ways to get involved in this most important work:
- Pray: Pray for the patients and their families, the doctors, nurses, and staff, and for the Foundation and all involved in promoting the work of the Holy Family Hospital.
- Donate: Patients at Holy Family Hospital are asked to pay only what they can afford. The remaining cost is covered by financial contributions from generous supporters like you. Donations are essential as needs are always high.
- Babies in Bethlehem: Consider learning more about the faith-in-action Advent program designed to bring Advent to life in Catholic parishes and parochial schools nationwide in support of Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem. Advent is almost over as I write, but this is a great time to think about this program for next year!
- Parish Involvement: Ask your pastor to designate Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation as a second collection or Poor Box recipient.
- Planned Giving: Remembering the most vulnerable and poor of Bethlehem in your will is a wonderful way to provide support for Holy Family Hospital in perpetuity.
For more information or to make a donation, visit the Holy Family Hospital Foundation website, and watch this Holy Family Hospital Video: