For more than a decade, Dr. Tom Catena has served more than half a million residents in a region the rest of the world has seemingly forgotten. Suturing wounds, amputating limbs and delivering babies in an area where most facilities lack even electricity and running water.
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Catena, a Catholic missionary, is posted in the rebel-held Nuba Mountains in southern Sudan, where the government has instituted a foreign-aid block as it continues to wage war with a faction known as the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement. Yet Catena continues his work, in unsafe, unsanitary and primitive conditions, because most of his patients have nowhere else to turn. He’s the region’s only permanent doctor.
“I’ve been given benefits from the day I was born,”he said. “A loving family. A great education. So I see it as an obligation, as a Christian and as a human being, to help.â€
In honor of his dedication, Catena was awarded the 2017 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity at a ceremony held on May 28 in Armenia, which suffered its own genocide in the early part of the 20th century. The award, granted by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative in remembrance of that genocide, comes with a $1 million prize that will be split among three different charities, as well as a $100,000 grant.
“Dr. Catena is a role model to us all, and yet another example of people on the ground truly making a difference,”said actor George Clooney, who co-chairs the committee that ultimately selected Catena from among more than 550 nominations from 66 countries.
“We all have an obligation to look after our brothers and sisters. It is possible that every single person can make a contribution, and to recognize that shared humanity can lead to a brighter future,”Dr. Catena said. “With my faith as my guide, I am honored to continue to serve the world and make it a better place.â€
Dr. Catena has worked for years at Mother of Mercy Catholic Hospital and estimates he treats more than 500 patients each day and performs more than 1,000 operations annually.
Ruben Vardanyan, who co-founded the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and United World College at Dilijan, commended Dr. Catena’s work and those who support it, especially in such hostile conditions.
“We are honored to share his story with the world to shed light on the goodwill that exists in the world so that helping others becomes part of our global culture,”he added.
In addition to Catena, four finalists for the prize were also honored and recognized at last month’s ceremony. Among those were Ms. Fartuun Adan and Ms. Ilwad Elman, a couple that founded a human rights center in Somalia; Ms. Jamila Afghani, who chairs an educational and development organization in Afghanistan; Dr. Muhammad Darwish, a physician at a Syrian hospital; and Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon who founded a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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