This Catholic doctor provides care for 1 million people in Sudan, South Sudan

Francesca Pollio Fenton   By Francesca Pollio Fenton for CNA


Doctor Tom Catena is a Catholic physician and missionary who serves the people in the Nuba Mountains, in a contested region between Sudan and South Sudan. / African Mission Healthcare

Denver Newsroom, Apr 28, 2022 / 14:51 pm (CNA).

Sudan and South Sudan are countries currently facing several hardships. After the military staged a coup in Sudan six months ago, the country remains in political and economic turmoil. Its neighbor, South Sudan, faces severe food shortages and a rise in violence.

A Catholic physician, Doctor Tom Catena, has a unique perspective on the situation both countries currently experience. He is the only surgeon for about 1 million people. For the past 14 years he has worked in the Nuba mountains, in a contested region between Sudan and South Sudan who faced civil war from 2011 to 2017, as a lay missionary and medical director of the Mother of Mercy Hospital.

In an interview with EWTN News Nightly, he explained how his faith plays an important role in his work, saying, “Without my Catholic faith I would not have stayed there.”

“The work is very challenging. It’s very gratifying and rewarding, but it’s very difficult with a lot of frustrations,” he said. “We have a lot of disappointments, a lot of bad outcomes, and I think my faith is what has kept me there in the field for so many years.”

He added, “The commands of Christ to take care of the least of my brothers and sisters, I take in a very literal sense. I just try to remember that to keep pushing ahead with the work.”

The Mother of Mercy Hospital is the referral hospital for an area the size of the state of Georgia. In one year they treat 160,000 outpatients, 7,000 inpatients, and perform 2,100 surgeries. Catena explained that people from outside the region are now traveling to the rural hospital for care as well.

“To put it in, say, an American context, it’d be like if you had a hospital in very rural Nebraska you’d have patients coming from Los Angeles for treatment,” he described. “We’ve slowly transformed medical care in the Nuba Mountains.”

Catena discussed how many of their patients who come from the north are Muslims who have never had exposure to Christianity.

“This is probably the first time they’ve seen Christians. It’s the first time they’ve come across a Christian institution,” he explained. “So, I think it’s a very important place, not only in terms of health care but in terms of Catholic outreach to the people of Sudan.”

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