From Phoenix to Bethlehem with love: Students band together to support newborns near place of Christ’s birth

 Kindergartners at St. Matthew School show off baby bottles Dec. 3. Students throughout the diocese are filling them with funds for the “Birthplace of Hope.” (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Kindergartners at St. Matthew School show off baby bottles Dec. 3. Students throughout the diocese are filling them with funds for the “Birthplace of Hope.” (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bethlehem.

Catholic school students? Baby bottles.

The service project is part of the first “Bottles for Bethlehem” drive going on throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons at local Catholic schools. Students are filling light pink and blue baby bottles or other collection jars with coins and dollar bills that will be sent via the local Order of Malta to the “Birthplace of Hope,” also known as Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem.

The hospital stands just 1,500 feet from where Jesus Christ was once laid in a manger. That’s a connection students at Ss. Simon and Jude will be able to make as they see their donations stack up around the Nativity scene in each classroom.

Today Bethlehem faces a nearly 70 percent unemployment rate with no social welfare system or available health insurance. In the midst of great difficulty, Holy Family Hospital shines as a beacon of hope, delivering some 3,200 babies each year. It’s the only facility that offers medical care for high risk pregnancies.

The longstanding facility has exclusively offered maternal and neonatal care since the Sovereign Order of Malta took over operation and management of the hospital 25 years ago at the request of St. John Paul II. The French Daughters of Charity founded Holy Family Hospital in 1888, but eventually closed it due to insufficient funding.

Today’s annual budget sits at $3.7 million, with donors worldwide meeting half of it, according to the hospital’s website. One quarter of its patients come from refugee camps in part because it’s also a referral hospital to the United Nations.

Holy Family Hospital also specializes in premature babies and provides critical care for nearly 400 infants each year. There’s also an effort to recruit and train native-born nurses.

The hospital’s mobile outreach services reach another 2,000 patients in rural villages per year. Its weekly visits are among small communities in the Judean desert that are only now starting to get running water, if at all, and where sanitation is nonexistent.

Students at St. Matthew School in Phoenix saw the hospital’s seven-minute video Dec. 3 when the campus formally kicked off its baby bottle drive and got an inside look at Holy Family Hospital. Their pastor, Fr. Ray Ritari, visited the “Birthplace of Hope” over the summer as part of a sabbatical through the Tantur Ecumenical Institute that Pope Paul VI established following Vatican II.

“It’s a very proficient, very, very professional hospital. It’s a wonderful thing to have there for the Palestinian community,” Fr. Ritari said.

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Support Holy Family Hospital

Want to join students throughout the Diocese of Phoenix in supporting the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem?

➤ Drop off money at any local Catholic school by early January

➤ Contact Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation at (202) 785-0801 or
birthplaceofhope.org

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His room overlooked Bethlehem. It was an estimated 25-minute walk there including security checkpoints. He painted a picture of Bethlehem for the students explaining that there are only two or three checkpoints for residents to get to work, health care or travel freely in a community where public transportation is slow and private vehicles are a luxury.

“When we do things like this,” Fr. Ritari said, alluding to the Bottles for Bethlehem effort, “we are preparing the way for the coming of God because God breaks into our lives especially in serving the poor.”

The service project runs through the Christmas season and donations will be collected in early January.