Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sister Valentina, a midwife in Jerusalem: the gift of life and Christ’s merciful love Valentina Sala, an Italian nun, has been in the Holy Land for more than three years. 

She heads the maternity ward at a (Christian) hospital in East Jerusalem.
She is now living the mission "in the city of Jesus", in a land that he "loved, but which has also caused suffering", in the city of "passion and Resurrection" that needs "to be loved, with merciful love, not with a spontaneous, instinctive love."

"Jews, Muslims and Christians live together amid acts of violence and attempts at peace,” she told AsiaNews, “enriched by a faith that strongly seeks God, but unable to find a way to live together."

For the nun, Jerusalem “is a place that hurts you," but at the same time "looks upon God’s merciful love” that is a reminder every day – amid attacks, abuse, and big and small acts of violence, that "one cannot be merciful without being hurt." This is the most valuable testimony during the Jubilee Year proclaimed by Pope Francis.

Sister Valentina Sala, 40, comes from Arcore (Italy), which comes under the Archdiocese of Milan. Since the spring 2013 she has lived in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, where she is responsible for the Maternity and Gynaecology Ward at St Joseph Hospital.

The sister made her perpetual vows in December 2010 and, after spending several years between Florence and Lucca in the youth ministry outreach, she answered the calling for the mission.

She belongs to the congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition, which has been present in the Holy Land since 1848, where it works with Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.

The nuns run St Joseph Hospital, also known as the French Hospital, which opened in 1956. 

Located in eastern Jerusalem, it is mostly used by Arabs (Christian and Muslim) from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The hospital is divided into several wards, including the emergency room, intensive care, medicine and surgery. The Maternity and Gynaecology Ward opened in April 2015 with 25 beds and a delivery room with, in charge, Sister Valentina who is an obstetrician by training. 

Other nuns work at the facility, some from Lebanon, Burma, and Iraq.

On average, 180-190 babies are delivered each month. “Some came to give birth to their second child,” the nun said. The record was in October 2015, with 236 births, “at the beginning of the Third Intifada, the knife intifada, as many Arab women chose not to go to Israel, and came instead to our facility in East Jerusalem."

Being a nun and midwife "is my double vocation," Sister Valentina explained, who spends most of her time "in the hospital". In this mission, she "seeks the mystery of Christ" by helping women pass on the gift of life "in a place that is also one of death."

"I recently received a letter from a Muslim woman I helped in giving birth, and she was a source of great joy." Not only the hospital staff, but also patients and pregnant women "know that I am a nun," but "I don’t have to show my faith. I bear witness with my own self, and my works. My being a Christian brings me closer to people, their stories, joys and sufferings."

The hospital is open to Jewish patients, but they don’t use it as much "because specialist visits and the waiting times are shorter."

So far only one Jewish couple, an Australian woman and an American man, came to the Christian hospital for the birth of their child. "They had opted for a home birth but when complications arose, their midwife turned to us," she explained. The hospital staff, mostly Arab Muslims, "treated them with care and professionalism.”

“There is openness but the opportunities are lacking.” Still, for Sister Valentina, the hospital environment helps to remove barriers, to give precedence to the human side of people and events, bringing out "first of all what unites."

In this sense, sickness and maternity, although in different ways, create ties with the patients and their families, whether they are "Christians, Muslims or foreigners who come to us because they know we're a Christian hospital and they know the environment."

Perhaps, being a foreigner and a nun in this land, “makes us more naive" because "we did not grow up in direct contact with the Muslims," but at the same time this allows us to be "more neutral, thus facilitating the task of building bridges".

Being a nun and midwife "sometimes draws attention". When the relationship with a patient, even a Muslim, grows "we might end up speaking about religion."

"They recognise and respect this choice, even if they cannot fully understand it. They see that our work is not only professional, a time card to clock in and out, but that it is the result of a vocation that goes beyond schedules and shifts."

Working in the Maternity and Gynaecology Ward develops a sense of the maternal, but "ours is a different form of maternity. It is important for us to protect life and preserve it in the mother, the baby and all the people who entrust themselves to our care."

Hence, Sister Valentina is committed to improving the conditions in which women give birth.

"What I noticed from the beginning is a certain gynecological pressure on women, perhaps not intentional, but one that causes stress and tension during childbirth because the delivery is too aggressive and invasive."

“This is perhaps connected to living conditions and tensions in Jerusalem. With prayers and work, I have tried to transform the moment of birth, which is a sacred moment, into one of joy and peace, even in the face of pain and suffering that it entails for women."

"I thought,” she said in a hopeful tone, “that if someone is born in a peaceful, calm manner, perhaps he or she can become a person of peace in the future."

Being a woman, a midwife, and missionary are all part of a deeper connection of "falling in love" with Christ. "It is a relationship of belonging, which sometimes involves experiencing limits and betrayals,” she explained, “but which is also a source of love, the ability to generate and to keep an eye on eternity".

"If I did not belong to Christ, what I do would be volunteer work, which is measured by personal achievements every day. By contrast, the bond with Christ changes the perspective, teaches how to build relationships and engages in acts that have a sense of eternity enclosed in itself."

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