"How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?"
— Vincent Van Gogh quoted in Zen and the Art of Making a Living
Tom Catena played football for Brown University and graduated in 1986 with an engineering degree. But after much thought and personal examination, he decided to become a doctor. He got his medical degree from Duke University, then spent several years in the military before going to work among the poor in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2008, he began his true mission in Sudan serving as the only doctor at the only hospital for a million people in the Nuba Mountains in Southern Sudan.
"I shall merely try to help God as best I can and if I succeed in doing that, then I shall be of use to others as well."
— Etty Hillesum in God-Birthing by Michael Dwinnell
Since 2011, Dr. Catena has been on duty at the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel. Living simply and frugally, he sleeps on a mattress on the floor and starts each day attending Mass and saying the breviary and rosary before treating the sick, the wounded, and the dying. By the end of the day, Catena has seen 300 - 400 patients and performed various surgeries. We watch him do a complicated kidney operation on a young child.
"When we serve others, we gain more than hope. We gain energy."
— Margaret J. Wheatley in Turning to One Another
Almost all the children in the region have been deeply traumatized by indiscriminate bombings ordered by the indicted war criminal President Omar-al Bashir. Groups of casualties arrive regularly at the hospital. Catena and his local staff defy Bashir's ban on humanitarian aid.
"Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of the world."
— Joanna Macy in Coming Back to Life
Being the only doctor for over one million people in a desolate region puts plenty of pressure upon the American doctor. Beyond his surgery, he treats malnourished kids and visits with leprosy victims who live apart from others in their own community. Dr. Catena is truly a servant of God and an inspiration to us all.
"Service has a life of its own. A single act of kindness may have a long trajectory and touch those will never meet or see. Something that we casually offer may move through a web of connection far beyond ourselves to have effects that we may have never imagined. And so each of us may have left far more behind us than we may ever know."
— Rachel Naomi Reman in My Grandfather's Blessing