To help people make Advent a true time of preparation leading to the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas, both the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have interactive Advent calendars on their websites.
Many pilgrims who visit the traditional birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem do not realize that there is a state-of-the art hospital nearby, where an expectant mother and father never hear the words, "There is no room here."
In fact, since Holy Family Hospital reopened in 1990, it has become known throughout the West Bank as the "Birthplace of Hope": More than 55,000 babies have been delivered. It also has the only neonatal intensive care unit in the West Bank.
A few years after it reopened, Pope John Paul II listed Holy Family Hospital among the Catholic Church’s top 100 priorities in the new millennium.
The hospital’s calendar (BirthplaceofHope.org) focuses on each day through Christmas Eve. The reflections come from Catholic clergy, religious and writers, while video features familiarize visitors with the hospital and its staff and also its mobile medical outreach.
The need is all the greater, given the stressful political situation in the area.
In a prepared statement, Holy Family Hospital Foundation’s executive director, Colleen Marotta, expressed hope that people will use the calendar to prepare for Christmas and to "learn about the important work of the hospital (where) doctors and staff save the lives of thousands of mothers and babies annually and they provide the highest-quality medical care without regard to race, religion or ability to pay."
On the calendar’s video for Dec. 2, the hospital’s general manager, Dr. Jacques Keutgen, said: "The hospital can guarantee you that you will get the best medical care in Palestine … the best care in the Western world or through the States."
The bishops are also offering an Advent calendar that gives suggestions to help the faithful properly prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas (USCCB.org).
In designing the calendar, Patricia Ryan Garcia, the USCCB’s assistant director for communications, remembered Advent calendars of old.
"As kids, we opened the door each day to find something like a piece of chocolate," she said. She adapted that model so that when visitors open the "virtual door" each day they receive "a spiritual gift and prayer and a link to something to enrich their spirituality and enter fully into the season."
She also "took the idea of the doors opening as reminiscent for the Year of Faith: We open the doors to faith."
Each day the calendar proposes new activities and gives suggestions for prayer and spiritual study, from the traditional Advent wreath to watching a video reflection, including one from Pope Benedict XVI.
For example, on Dec. 4, the sacrament of reconciliation was in the spotlight. Two days later, visitors were directed to read the story of St. Nicholas, give small treats to children and pray for all bishops and engaged couples, while checking out the USCCB’s ForYourMarriage.org.
Different feast days also proposed to honor Mary, the Mother of God. There were ideas for prayers and a video reflection to celebrate the Immaculate Conception, and, for the following week, prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe asked "for her intercession for the cause of religious liberty."
One recommendation posted on the site: to consider buying "Christmas gifts that support farmers and artisans and their families in developing countries … and in poor communities in the United States."
The homepage also links to a printable Advent calendar in both English and Spanish. As an added bonus, the calendar continues from Advent through the Christmas season, from Christmas Day to the Epiphany.
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.