Dr. Tom Catena is a medical doctor and surgeon who has been volunteering in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan since 2008. He is the sole doctor at Mother of Mercy Hospital sponsored by the Catholic Medical Mission Board. The hospital serves a population of nearly 750,000 people. When violence erupted in the area in 2011, Tom and the religious priests and sisters who were serving in the region were advised to evacuate and return to the U.S. They decided to stay. Tom said, “My decision to stay and take care of these people was a very simple one. If I left, many men, women and children would certainly die. That would mean that I valued my life over the lives of the people I came to serve. We stay because we take Christ at his word when He commands us to take a case of the “least of these”. The work Tom does is difficult and dangerous. At times there are 450 to 500 patients in the wards at a time, many of them wounded soldiers and civilian victims of the frequent bombings in the area. He has had to watch children die from burns from artillery shelling. On one occasion he had to amputate both arms of a boy who was hit by a barrel bomb dropped from 20,000 feet. He was asked how he and those who work with him can continue. How do they avoid being overcome by grief? He answered, “Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are not the authors of life and death and that in humility we have to accept that it is not us but our good Lord who gives and sustains life. The people in the Nuba Mountains have an innate sense of the divine that we who live in peaceful, prosperous countries seem to have lost because of our reliance on our own erudition and technology. We are called to a life of humble service and radical reliance on God but not to perfection. We are to allow the immense grace of God to work in our lives. This can be accomplished only when we align our wills with the will of our loving Father.” People like Tom should be an inspiration and a model for us. Each day we are called by the Lord to take care of one another, even when that demands of us some form of sacrifice. With God’s grace, may we respond as generously as he has.
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