When she ran on the cross country team at St. John's College High School in Washington, senior Cecilia Bowe completed races of about three miles. But this spring, she decided to go a much longer distance, traveling to Palestine to run 13.1 miles in the Palestine half-marathon.

Bowe arrived in Bethlehem the evening of March 21 and woke up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning to run, after having trained for several months. The race began in Manger Square by the Church of the Nativity, which marks the birthplace of Christ, and looped through the city of Bethlehem, along the Israeli West Bank barrier wall that divides Israel and Palestine, and through refugee camps where people who were displaced from their homes by the Israeli government live.

The marathon is held to advocate for the freedom of movement for Palestinians, who are restricted by Israel’s barrier wall, but Bowe ran to raise money for Bethlehem’s Holy Family Hospital, and in the end, she raised nearly $7,000.

The hospital, which is operated by the Order of Malta, is a state-of-the-art maternity and neonatal critical care center that serves poor and at-risk women, infants, and children throughout the Bethlehem region, including refugees and residents of remote desert villages. It provides services such as prenatal care, delivery and postnatal care, as well as screenings for gynecological cancers. It is also the only hospital in the region capable of caring for an infant born before 32 weeks, and some of the infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit can weigh as little as one pound. More than 4,600 babies are born at the hospital annually.

All services are subsidized at 50 percent, and the hospital’s Poor Case Fund helps families who need more assistance, making it possible to provide health care to all who come through the doors, without regard to their ability to pay. No one is ever turned away from receiving services there.

Bowe said she wanted to support the hospital because it brings stability and peace to the area that is often full of conflict. The Bethlehem region faces about a 70 percent unemployment rate, but as the second-largest employer in Bethlehem, Holy Family Hospital provides jobs to 170 Palestinian families and creates employment opportunities for women in an area where few exist.

Bowe also noted that the Catholic hospital employs both Christians and Muslims, and sometimes sends the babies to a Jewish hospital if they need different services that are provided there, making it an important ecumenical effort.

She said she believed having “some sort of conversation between different sides” and uniting them “toward a common goal,” such as caring for babies, can lead to peace.

“I like the idea of ecumenical efforts; the idea of building peace through religion, that gives a set of morals and values and ethics,” she said.

While in Palestine, Bowe attended Mass in some historic locations, such as in the grotto under the place where Jesus was born, and heard Mass celebrated in different languages, such as Arabic and Catalan, which she said she found interesting.

Bowe received a lot of support while running the half-marathon, which she said she thinks is because “it restores people’s faith to see the good work of the Catholic Church.”

In addition to supporting the hospital by running, Bowe completed service hours at the hospital by doing things like weighing the babies and measuring their head circumference. One day, she went with the hospital’s mobile clinic, which goes out into the desert to provide gynecological care to people that otherwise can’t afford it.

Cecilia Bowe stands with one of the babies at Holy Family Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Michele Bowe)

“It is really precious to see the babies with their moms and families,” she said. “Giving a newborn baby a bottle is precious.”

While she enjoyed her time at the hospital and said she would like to return, Bowe is not planning to pursue a career in medicine. Instead, next year Bowe will attend Colby College in Waterville, Maine, which she chose because of their environmental science program.

After studying abroad in Chile last fall, she became interested in climate justice and social justice concerns, and how the two intersect. And, because of her love for trail running, as well as other outdoor activities like rock climbing and backpacking, Bowe hopes to help preserve those natural resources.

“If you are going to use the environment and the outdoors, you should also be a steward of it and protect it,” she said.