10/16/2013 11:40:00 AM Local Catholic reflects on mission service in Sudan
Photo by Dr. Patricia Leong
Dr. Patricia Leong (center) with her friends Miriam and Leila of Sudan.
Dr. Tom Catena visits with patients in Sudan.
What makes a missionary?
By Jon DeBellis Of the Catholic Sentinel For Dr. Patricia Leong, the idea of going abroad to participate in missionary work seemed an impossibility. A self-proclaimed “strong introvert,” she never pictured herself overseas, in harm’s way, helping people in severe need.
“I'm not an adventurous person, but once the decision was made to go, I felt grace,” said Dr. Leong. Dr. Tom Catena kept in touch with Dr. Leong about his missionary work in Sudan. She got to know Dr. Catena through her brother, a physician and medical school classmate of Dr. Catena’s at Georgetown University.
She felt called to serve when she heard stories of the work being done in the Nuba Mountains.
“I think one of the things I’ve been so blessed with are the pastors at St. Thomas More,” said Dr. Leong. “They have taught us the process of discernment —asking God for help in discerning how we're supposed to live out our faith.” Dr. Leong sent along the above article to the Catholic Sentinel after reflecting on her time in Sudan while on retreat at the Trappist Abbey.
“I felt like the secular press was covering it the best they could,” said Dr. Leong. “But the articles felt graceless; without God. People should know that God is there with these people, and that God does act in the world through our prayers.”
While in Sudan, most of the work Dr. Leong did was to sit by the bedsides of the injured and pray the rosary, keep them company and go into the children's ward to get to know the children and their parents as best she could.
Often times she would help feed the children who were severely malnourished, mixing supplemental food with water. While on the trip, she also learned about a process called feel therapy involving acupuncuture that helped war-torn patients release anxiety, depression and anger.
She recalls a female leper in a village who had her child with her. She was waiting for the government to give her medicine the United Nations had sent. Dr. Leong spent time with her, administering feel therapy and speaking with her about her anxiety and about being away from her family.
“Just your presence tells people that they have dignity — that people care about them,” said Dr. Leong. Dr. Leong says she wants people to realize, even if they cannot be active missionaries, that their thoughts and our prayers offered to God make a difference. She and her husband are currently discerning a return trip.
By Patricia Leong For the Catholic Sentinel
SUDAN — Announcements at the end of Sunday Mass in the Nuba mountains here had just been read when the bomber was heard overhead. The sound of the airplane changed from a dull droning to a high-pitched whirring, signaling a bomb was slicing through the air. Panicked children, men and women fell to the ground or ran trying to find protection from the coming blast.
Houses in the area are made of sticks and woven grass — there are no bomb shelters and no military targets. Four bombs exploded nearby that day. Thankfully, there was no loss of human life and only one house was destroyed.
But the bombs dropped by the Sudan government in Khartoum did their job: to terrorize civilians of the Nuba mountains.
The Catholic missionaries in the Nuba Mountains, Dr. Tom Catena, 49, a surgeon from upstate New York and the Comboni Missionary Sisters attending Mass that Sunday witnessed the fear before and after the bombs fell.
In 2009, my husband and I served for a month with Dr. Catena, director of Mother of Mercy Hospital and the Comboni Missionary Sisters who are nurses, teachers, and operate Voice of Peace Catholic Radio in the area. Mother of Mercy was built by the Catholic diocese of El Obeid, Sudan and is the only hospital for hundreds of miles.
Since war resumed in 2011 between the government in Khartoum and the rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, the Sudan government continues aerial bombing of civilian villages and farms and blocks food supplies and independent international monitoring to these areas. Farmers are afraid to work their fields because the bombings are making food scarce. Thousands of people have left their homes to live in rock caves or are displaced to refugee camps.
Many of the victims of the bombings come to the hospital. On one day, five children ages 3 to 6 years old and one girl, 15, all wounded by an exploded bomb were brought in for treatment. Their mother was killed together with six other members of the family. The bomb had fallen on their home.
Hospital staffers continue to see growing numbers of severe malnutrition, especially in children. Scarcity of maize and sorghum is causing people to resort to eating whatever plants they can find. Recently four children from the same family died from accidentally consuming poisonous roots. The parents had left to seek food. The children were hungry and the elder sister, 13 cooked a little maize with the roots. When the parents returned, one child was dead and the other three died two days later.
Despite the danger and hardship Catholic missionaries remain stalwart in their service.
Asked why he stays after the civil war began Dr. Catena says, "As the only doctor at the only major hospital in the Nuba Mountains I could not leave in good conscience. Also as a lay missionary, I felt it was very important to show the presence of the Church in this time of need - that the Church does not abandon her people when a crisis arises."
"Our missionary vocation calls us to remain with the people the Lord entrusted to us in whichever circumstances they live. We are with them in joy and in sorrow as well, in abundance and in scarcity, in time of peace and in time of war," read documents from the Comboni Missionary Sisters.
How can we, the Church in Oregon help to relieve the suffering in the Nuba Mountains? 1. Pray Over and over we receive email from the missionaries that our prayers are important to the people of the Nuba Mountains and help them to keep hope that God knows of their need and is present with them; that they are not alone and forgotten by the rest of the world. 2. Contact Elected Officials Encourage elected officials to support international pressure on the Government of Sudan to stop the bombing of civilians, lift restrictions on delivery of food and allow United Nations and independent international organizations access to needy civilians in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. 3. Share Share some of what God has blessed you with to support the missionaries working at Mother of Mercy Hospital through the Catholic Medical Mission Board (Dr. Tom Catena): cmmb.org or the Comboni Missionaries (Comboni Missionary Sisters of Gidel): www.combonimissionaries.org.
The writer is a retired dentist and member of St. Thomas More Parish in Eugene. She is married to Dr. Daniel Phillips.
MY PRAYER TO GOD...
I am worried if the situation continues deteriorating;
many people will die.
We are crying: enough is enough!
International community is not able to step in
and stop the bloodshed.
What can I do? Where can I go? This is my home!
Oh, God hear my cry.
God, bring us peace.
Heal us from the sufferings.
What crimes have we done to deserve this tragic punishment?
I have been denied education, water, health, electricity,
and when I say "I miss this" I was shot up.
How can we stop injustice in Sudan?
Oh, come in! Help me! Lord, hear us!
— Avejege Ismail Makki
The writer is a 27-year-old employee of the Catholic radio station, Voice of Peace in the Nuba Mountains.