When Jesus was born in Bethlehem on the first Christmas, his family was told there was no room for them at the inn.
During Advent 2021, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland – in sponsorship with the Caritas Baby Hospital Foundation – helped ensure that no child would be turned away at Christmastime in Bethlehem.
Founded in Bethlehem in 1953 by Father Ernst Schnydrig, Caritas Baby Hospital is the only exclusively pediatric hospital in the West Bank. Its mission provides hope and enhances the well-being of all Palestinian children regardless of their social or religious background or their ability to pay, through specialized, high-quality and safe health care provided in a child-friendly environment.
Annually, tens of thousands of Palestinian children are treated – most for free – for a multitude of pediatric diseases, with specialties in pulmonary, neurology, neonatal and congenital disorders. Their motto is, “No child is ever turned away.”
Bethlehem was hit particularly hard by COVID-19, as the pandemic denied the city any tourism, which is the main source of income for the Palestinian Christians living there. The challenging dynamics imposed by COVID-19 added to the already daily stress of chronic patients and their families and increased their need for psychosocial support. This also was worsened by the mounting requests for financial support due to the deteriorating situation. Yet, during the pandemic, CBH was able to serve tens of thousands of sick children, including a baby named Zeina.
Her parents, Sanad and Maryam, were married in 2020, immediately after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Palestine.
The couple were happy with Maryam’s pregnancy and were eager to meet their new baby. Maryam had a normal pregnancy until in November, when she began feeling symptoms of the coronavirus. Since she was six months pregnant, the disease greatly increased her difficulties and the stress on the baby she was carrying. Maryam died with Zeina’s birth.
Once Zeina was born, she spent two months in treatment at CBH. Finally, she could be removed from external oxygen support. She then was admitted to a stepdown neonatal ward to further stabilize her and monitor her development. Zeina was discharged from the hospital a few days later in good condition, able to breathe and feed like any other normal newborn.
A few weeks later, CBH personnel visited the family in their village east of Bethlehem. They found Zeina surrounded by her father and grandparents.
“We don’t allow people to see her,” said her grandmother, Fatimah. “Zeina is still fragile and could catch the coronavirus easily,” she added.
Zeina’s father said her grandmother is “a second mother for Zeina.”
The bereaved husband and father still finds it hard to accept the new reality of life without his wife, but said, “Zeina is all my life now.” And despite all the pain, Sanad is thrilled to see his child alive and healthy, thanks to Caritas Baby Hospital.
The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, which are active in the Diocese of Cleveland, hosted a fundraising gala for the hospital on Nov. 20, 2021 at the Shoreby Club. Issa Bankdak, the hospital CEO, was the guest speaker.
Click here for more information on Caritas Baby Hospital.