DR. CATENA AND FATHER CATENA AFTER A MASS IN SUDAN.
DR. CATENA AND FATHER CATENA AFTER A MASS IN SUDAN.
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Rev. Paul Catena and his brother, Tom, have more in common than one might think.

Both brothers, along with their five other siblings, grew up in Amsterdam, attending church with their parents, who are still in the area. Father Catena is pastor of Annunciation parish in Ilion and Our Lady Queen of Apostles in Frankfort.

His brother left Amsterdam to study mechanical engineering at Brown University in Providence, R.I., later getting his M.D. from Duke University in Durham, N.C. and joining the United States Navy.

Dr. Tom Catena is now a medical missionary: since 2008, the only doctor at Mother of Mercy Hospital, a mission hospital in South Kordofan in the Nuba Mountains of the Sudan, a conflict-ravaged country in North Africa.

Like his brother, Dr. Catena is in the field of evangelization. Although he recognizes that, as a priest, his brother is perhaps more directly evangelizing the masses, he knows that his actions have an effect on the people he serves.

All about faith
"People are open to religion here," he said recently in a Skype video-chat interview with The Evangelist. With the majority of the population identifying as Muslim, there is a small population of Catholic Christians. Regardless of beliefs, "they are really open to talking about God."

In fact, he said, "The faith is the motivating factor of the work here. One of my goals for anyone who comes here is to put the Church in a good light. We don't boast about what we're doing...but once in a while we kind of gently say, 'Hey, the Church is doing a lot of good work.'"

Following two civil wars in the last century and a half, the Sudan has been plagued with conflict and rebellion for decades, with the violence only increasing in recent years when an attempt by the Sudanese government to quell rebellion expanded to attacking the population at large. South Sudan became a separate country, but Dr. Catena said the conflict will take generations to sort out.

The missionaries at the hospital are committed to staying until they are no longer needed. Mother of Mercy Hospital, which treats about 300 patients a day in addition to the 200 or so people in its clinic, operates "with the idea that the hospital will eventually be run by the local people," Dr. Catena told The Evangelist. Everything from premature babies to people with complex medical conditions of all kinds arrive at the Church-run hospital each day.

Famous physician
The physician has been making headlines lately, being named one of Time magazine's Top 100 Most Influential People of 2015 -- a list that included pioneers like African-American ballet dancer Misty Copeland and astronaut Scott Kelly. Dr. Catena has also been featured in the New York Times in a Sunday review by Nicholas Kristof, who also included the doctor and hospital in his annual holiday gift-giving guide.

Although these articles have resulted in a good number of donations for the hospital, Dr. Catena said he's "not used to being in the spotlight.

"I'm a doctor out here in the middle of nowhere. The personal aspect is a bit uncomfortable for me," he said, noting that he tries to look at the publicity as a way to gain support and awareness for the dangerous situation in the Nuba Mountains.

The majority of the donations have been made through the African Mission Healthcare Foundation, an organization that looks to meet the financial needs of mission hospitals in Africa.

"What really can be a challenge [is] building a base of ongoing support," said Jon Fielder, chief executive officer for the AMHF. "Mother of Mercy Hospital does a lot of surgeries and, formerly, there were no people trained in anesthesia."

Basic needs
Training an anesthesiologist was one goal the money raised by the AMHF helped to support. The AMHF's donations have been generously doubled by a private donor, resulting in more than $400,000 raised to help in training hospital personnel, airlifting medical supplies to the area and supporting basic hospital needs. Although the hospital has electricity and running water -- luxuries that homes in the area around it do not have - Dr. Catena said that "we are pretty limited in our technology."

There's an ultrasound machine, but no x-ray or CT scanners, for instance. Dr. Catena recalled a recent case when a boy had a head injury and the doctor, unable to see the extent of the bleeding, had to drill a hole in his head -- which turned out to have been unnecessary.

Medications and supplies are limited, as well; the hospital only receives one major order of supplies per year. That shipment lands in a refugee camp in South Sudan, and the only way to get the supplies is by taking small trucks down a hazardous road for up to 10 hours.

And "everything has to be in before the rain comes," Dr. Catena added: The rainy season washes out the road and can make travel even more dangerous.

"Now, it's a big issue, because we made our order for drugs and medical supplies in October, so we are really running out of things," he said. "It's a nightmare to get things out here; you really have to plan ahead. To fly a plane from Kenya to the refugee camp, it costs about $20,000."

Despite the lack of resources, the surgeon always has faith. He said he becomes resourceful in treating patients. "The key thing is try to improvise," he said, citing constant efforts to keep seriously-ill patients alive until specific medications arrive.

Brother's keeper
Father Catena told The Evangelist that his brother's dedication inspires him to become a better priest: "I've been motivated to change some of the ways that I'm doing things."

The pastor pointed to Dr. Catena's administrative work at Mother of Mercy, in addition to providing medical care. Father Catena admitted that, having been a priest for only about six years, he can still get overwhelmed with the administrative duties of leading two parishes.

"As my brother said, you have to do the pastoral work first, then whatever time and energy you have left, give to the administration," said Father Catena.

Dr. Catena was able to make a surprise visit to the Albany Diocese at Thanksgiving, visiting his parents, who are in their 80s. In talking with The Evangelist, he said that he gets immersed in his work while in Sudan, but "when I'm home, it's difficult to come back."

He's only seen his family three or four times in the past eight years.

However, Father Catena recently returned to the Diocese from a planned trip to visit his brother.

"I wanted to see it for myself," he said of Dr. Catena's work. "Primarily what I did was just follow him, walk in his footsteps."

Amen, amen
While in the Nuba Mountains, Father Catena got to witness his brother's long days of making rounds in patient wards, performing surgeries - and attending daily Mass.

"He's somewhat of a pastor to the hospital," noted the priest, who celebrated Masses while in Sudan and even assisted his brother in amputating a man's leg.

"I was proud to be his brother, and that's been the case throughout my adult life," Father Catena told The Evangelist. "He's always challenging himself to try different things in life. That's always impressed me."

Dr. Catena said simply that his services are needed.

"There's such a need here. This kind of area, there are great victories and great triumphs. Just seeing the need, seeing the warmth in the people, it's a place that's hard to beat.

"This guy was a bank robber and people said, 'Why do you rob banks?' And he said, 'That's where the money is.' We're doctors; we take care of sick people. If you really want to do a lot of medicine and get your hands dirty, this is the place."