The sisters who run the only children’s hospital on the West Bank have made it their mission to pray for peace in the Holy Land, traveling each week to invoke a Marian icon on the wall dividing the region.
Mary’s image is “a sign to pray the rosary and to look at her because” the situation is “not easy,” Sister Donatella of the Padua Franciscans told CNA May 24. The icon, she said, is a reminder to “ask for peace in the Holy Land.”
Often referred to as “the dividing wall,” the barrier is under construction by the State of Israel and forms a separation between itself and Palestine.
Argued as necessary by Israel in order to protect civilians against Palestinian terrorism and suicide bombs, the wall is opposed by Palestinians, who object that the barrier violates international law and is an illegal attempt to annex Palestine under the false guise of security.
Recounting how the first procession to the icon, written on the wall by an English artist, was made 10 years ago as part of a larger international event to pray for peace, Sr. Donatella explained that the organizers wanted to “call the people in the world to pray for peace.”
Now occurring March 1 of each year on an international scale, the visit to the image is made by the sisters every Friday to pray the rosary for an end to conflicts and tensions in the area as well as a greater respect for human dignity. Depicted as pregnant, Mary in the icon is “impregnated by peace.”
Sr. Donatella is a member of the Padua Franciscan community and assists in running the only children’s hospital in Bethlehem, Caritas Baby Hospital.
Founded in 1962, the hospital was established by Fr. Ernst Schnydrig after he witnessed a father burying his child in the mud near a refugee camp on Christmas Eve. After learning that that the child died because he could not get medical care, the priest made a commitment that no child in the city of Jesus’ birth would ever be denied it.
Containing both a neo-natal and ICU unit, the hospital is nonprofit and has also established an educational program called Children’s Relief Bethlehem.
One of the most frequent problems affecting the children they treat are genetic diseases resulting from inter-family marriages, the sister explained.
It’s a great problem “especially because of Muslim familial and religious traditions” she observed, adding that although most women are at least partially aware of the risks of inter-family marriage “they can’t do anything because their family chooses their future husbands.”
Education on this topic, the sister noted, is one of the highest priorities of the Children’s Relief Bethlehem educational program.
Speaking of Pope Francis’ visit to Bethlehem tomorrow, where he will say Mass in the city’s Manger Square, Sr. Donatella expressed her hope that the pontiff will also bring a message of peace to the area.
“All of us would like Pope Francis to bring with him and let all of the world not lose hope for peace,” she said, adding that they would like him “to say that one day there will be peace in this land. Don’t lose the dream of peace.”