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Work of Amsterdam native Dr. Tom Catena in remote Sudan now focus of film

Work of Amsterdam native Dr. Tom Catena in remote Sudan now focus of film

Will be shown at Proctors beginning Monday
Work of Amsterdam native Dr. Tom Catena in remote Sudan now focus of film
Dr, Tom Catena directs treatment of a child at Mother of Mercy Catholic HospitaL.
Photographer: photo provided

Amsterdam native Dr. Tom Catena has spent the past decade in the remote Nuba Mountains in the African country of Sudan, serving as the sole doctor for nearly one million people. 

His story is a compelling one, and now it's the subject of a documentary, "The Heart of Nuba," that screens next week at Proctors. 

The documentary provides an on-the-ground look at Catena and his humanitarian work in a war-torn country. It takes viewers inside Mother of Mercy Catholic Hospital, which Catena, who is known as Dr. Tom to his patients, founded. 

"Heart of Nuba" has received positive reviews, with the New York Times saying that "it's worth seeing because it's a moving and remarkable story and it represents a great cause." 

For Catena, the film was an opportunity to raise awareness about "what is happening in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan and the extent of the war crimes the Sudan government has perpetrated against its own people over many years." 

"I'd also like to give the viewers a glimpse of what the life of a missionary is like and highlight the work that the church is doing," Catena told me, in an emailed response to a list of questions from The Daily Gazette. "Yes, I would definitely hope it would inspire contributions as these donations are currently the only way we're able to keep the doors of the hospital open." 

In 2017, Catena was named laureate of the 2017 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity and awarded $100,000 to further his humanitarian mission, as well as $1 million to donate to charities of his choice. 

Our 2014 interview: Amsterdam native honored for efforts at Sudan hospital

In his email, Catena said that he initially went to Nuba because it "would be a chance to work in a completely undeveloped area with no major health facilities. It would give the chance to start something from the bottom up and I thought it could be a good challenge." 

He added, "I stayed in Nuba despite the danger, difficulties and frustrations due to my Christian faith. The need in Nuba is great and Jesus gave us some very simple instructions - 'take care of these least of my brothers and sisters' and 'sell all you have, give it to the poor and come follow me.' Perhaps I take things too literally, but these are words for me to live by." 

The director of "The Heart of Nuba," Kenneth Carlson, is a personal friend of Catena's: The two were classmates at Brown University in Providence, R.I., where they both played football together before graduating in 1986. 

"We reconnected in 2013 when I went to (New York City) to receive an Ivy League football award," Catena wrote. "Ken approached me and expressed an interest in making a movie about the work we are doing in the Nuba Mountains.

I was hesitant at first as we are in a war zone with plenty of risks and knew that getting approval from the people who were running the hospital would be very difficult," Catena continued. 

Catena wanted Carlson to make sure he "highlighted the Nuba people in the film," and said that Carlson did "a great job in depicting the reality of life in the Nuba Mountains - both the good and the bad." 

Catena is on call 24 hours a day and performs more than 1,000 surgeries a year. 

According to the Gazette story on his receiving the Aurora Prize, he operates in defiance of government restriction on humanitarian aid in the country, and government planes have bombed his hospital.  

"The Heart of Nuba" is showing at Proctors on June 18, 19, 20 and 21 at both 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. 

Reach Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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