“It is my duty as a Christian and a human being to help others.” – Dr. Tom Catena

The start of a new year is always a good time for reflection.  It’s a time when many of us step back to examine the person we are, compared to the person we want to be.  In our own community, there is one person who continues to set an example, and his story stands out, year after year.

In Africa, deep in the Nuba Mountains of southern Sudan, our medical volunteer, Dr. Tom Catena has very few personal possessions. He lives without electricity, running water or even essential medical equipment. But in his heart, Dr. Tom has everything he wants: faith, family, friends, a God-given talent for healing, and the ability to give back.

Dr. Tom is still the only physician in a community of 750,000 people isolated by conflict and unable to access humanitarian aid.

Tom Cantena with the people he serves in sudan as the only doctor

He works tirelessly, sometimes around the clock, at the Mother of Mercy Hospital. Even though the facility has been bombed eleven times, Dr. Tom says, “How can I give up when I see my patients suffering?”

  • A pregnant motherfacing complications, in danger of losing her unborn baby.
  • Young children nearly burned to death by bombs and explosions.
  • The sick and elderly, needing life-saving medicine.

Dr. Tom cares for them all.

When war first broke out, many urged Dr. Tom to come home, warning him that his life was in danger. But Dr. Tom refused to abandon his patients – his community:

“We are all children of God. And we do have an obligation to look after our brothers. Every single person can make a contribution, somehow.”

Dr. Tom has received many honors and awards for his courage, bravery and service. He was honored as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential people and it is no surprise that once again, he has been nominated for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity.

In May of 2016, Dr. Tom received an honorary degree from his alma mater, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He addressed the assembled graduates via Skype from Sudan and shared these words:

“I would like to accept this degree on behalf of the people I work for, and those are the people of the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. For the Class of 2016, I want to say congratulations. It seems a very short 30 years ago when I was sitting where you are today, not having any idea what I wanted to do with my future. All I knew was that I didn’t want to hear any more boring advice. So I want you to take courage and know that things work out okay.  

“Get rid of all of your baggage and go live a life of full and total service to other people.”

I don’t want to give you so much advice today but a challenge and my challenge is this.  Everyone is in search of happiness. Everybody is in search of fulfillment. I think if you really want fulfillment in this life, what I would suggest to you is go and get rid of everything you have.  Sell everything you have.  Get rid of all of your baggage and go live a life of full and total service to other people. I think if you do that, you will find that the rewards are incredible.  You will find that you have fulfillment more than you could ever have imagined.  So I throw that challenge out to you. You are Brown graduates. You are the ones who are supposed to be doing different things, unusual things.  Let the guys from Harvard and Yale go out and make a billion dollars. You go out and make a difference in the world.  You are the ones people are counting on. Stay ever true.”  

Watch the full speech:


Those who know him personally, describe Tom Catena as a courageous, saintly man. He sets an example for all those who hope to follow his path in the service of others. He doesn’t seek personal accolades or recognition, but rather support for his work at the Mother of Mercy Hospital and the patients who depend on him each day.

Please consider supporting the work of Dr. Tom Catena and all of our volunteers – the humble heroes serving the most vulnerable women, children, and communities in forgotten places around the world. Together, let’s make 2017 a year of respect, compassion and love.

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