Hospital in Naples marks half century of ‘open arms’

The ‘Ospedale Evangelico Betania’ in Naples, Italy. Photo: Michele Attanasio
The ‘Ospedale Evangelico Betania’ in Naples, Italy. All photos: Michele Attanasio

Villa Betania Evangelical Hospital provides care for poor and undocumented migrants

(LWI) - The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy (CELI), a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of a hospital in Naples that provides high quality care for some of the city’s most impoverished inhabitants.

The ‘Ospedale Evangelico Betania’ was inaugurated on 20 October 1968 in Ponticelli, one of the most deprived suburbs to the east of Naples. The area, which was heavily bombed during the Second World War, includes a sprawling camp for Roma and Sinti families and is plagued by high levels of unemployment, drug-trafficking and organized crime.

The hospital was the brainchild of a local doctor, Teofilo Santi, son of a Methodist pastor, who had long dreamed of setting up a medical mission in Africa. Yet when he saw first-hand the extreme poverty and malnutrition that was rife among children living in underground tunnels close to the Capodimonte Royal Palace, he realised his vocation was to serve those struggling to survive in his own city.

The Santi family had already founded an orphanage in the early years of the 20th century and Teofilo was able to gather practical support and funding from the local Protestant communities, as well as from members of the allied forces that were stationed in Naples during the post-war years.

Free support services for women

Today the hospital is managed by a governing board that includes seven Italian Protestant communities: Lutherans, Waldensians, Methodists, Baptists, Adventists, Salvation Army and the Apostolic Church in Italy.

It welcomes people of all faiths and none, offering free services for immigrant women, as well as others who are undocumented and unable to pay for medical care or counseling. The original 86 bed facility has grown to include 158 beds, offering a wide variety of out-patient services and an accident and emergency department.

 Michele Attanasio

A patient at the women’s health surgery which provides free preventative screening services.

The current vice-president of the board is Cordelia Vitiello, a member of the LWF Council. She says the Protestant churches in Italy are “small in number but they have a voice,” especially in caring for those on the margins of society. Thanks to the support of the Waldensians and Methodists, she said, Villa Betania, as the hospital is known, continues to offer “open arms to those in need.”

2,200 babies born in 2017

Vitiello speaks with pride of the free care and preventative screening services that doctors and nurses provide for undocumented women, as well as education and support for those who have been victims of domestic violence. In 2017, she adds, over 2,200 babies were born at the hospital, many of them to mothers from the nearby Roma camp.

Last October the vital work of Villa Betania was recognized publicly during three days of celebrations for the past half century of dedicated service and solidarity. Supporters from Europe and the United States came to Naples to take part in the high-profile events which were attended by the city’s mayor and by the president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.

Commemorative medals to the LWF

The daughter of a German mother and an Italian father, Vitiello attended a meeting of the LWF Committee for World Service in Jericho in November and visited the Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. During the visit, she presented commemorative 50th anniversary medals to LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa, General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge, as well as to the hospital’s CEO Walid Nammour.

Vitiello told the group she was happy to have visited the LWF-run AVH and learn more about the life-saving work at the hospital. “I have been able to share the ministry of the Augusta Victoria hospital and get to know the work that is being done today.” CEO Nammour accepted the medal “on behalf of 450 employees of the Augusta Victoria hospital,” adding that such recognition was further motivation for the ongoing work at the hospital.

President Musa expressed his gratitude for the medal which he received on behalf of the LWF as well as his own own Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria. “Congratulations for 50 years of ministry in the hospital. I pray that God will bless you in your undertakings.”

A member church of the LWF since 1949, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy has  7,000 members.