Thursday, November 17, 2022
Father Giuseppe Ambrosoli will be beatified in Northern Uganda, in the parish of Kalongo, in the medical hub of an old mission in East Acholi, on November 20, 2022. Not without a compelling reason, for there he began his missionary experience on February 19, 1956. He ended it as a refugee in Lira, 124 kilometers south of Kalongo on March 27, 1987 after 31 years of a most fruitful evangelizing service. [In the picture: The statue of Fr. Giuseppe Ambrosoli in the hospital compound in Kalongo. Video]
Through the example of Fr. Giuseppe Joseph Ambrosoli, a member of the Comboni Missionaries who treated patients from poor backgrounds at a hospital in Uganda, doctors and nurses appreciate their God-given gift to perform miracles by loving the sick. According to Fr. Egidio Tocalli who worked with Fr. Ambrosoli, physicians also learn the invaluable gift of prioritizing service over money in their profession, following the example of Dr. Fr. Ambrosoli who worked for decades at Kalongo Hospital in Northern Uganda where he is set to be beatified on November 20.
“People should emulate Fr. Ambrosoli’s faith in God, humility and love for the poor. Jesus says in the Gospel that whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you have done to me. People of God should therefore be humble and treat the poor with kindness because it is in the poor that Jesus lives,” Fr. Egidio told ACI Africa. The Italian-born Comboni Priest added during the Wednesday, September 21 interview, “Fr. Joseph Ambrosoli is a good example for Christians and especially for doctors and nurses. Doctors and nurses should learn from his respect for the sick; his love and tenderness. They should learn not to prioritize money but to cure people. God gave them a great gift to cure the sick.”
“Where saints have done miracles, doctors too can perform miracles through their love and compassion for the patients,” Fr. Egidio, a trained surgeon who worked in Uganda for over 20 years said. Born in 1923 in the Province of Como, Italy, Fr. Ambrosoli, also known as Joseph, arrived in Uganda in February 1956. While in Gulu, he relocated to Kalongo, a town in Northern Uganda that is served by the Archdiocese of Gulu, where he devoted his energy, skills and medical expertise to the growth of the Kalongo Hospital.
The facility reportedly gained a reputation for excellence, growing only from a dispensary to a full-fledged hospital, which started delivering babies and attending to medical and pediatric patients. In a recently released video to provide insight into the envisioned beatification of Fr. Ambrosoli, the Comboni Missionary and doctor has been described as a selfless and humble servant of God who used his intelligence and professionalism to bring hope and healing to the people of God in Uganda. Fr. Egidio recalled having ministered alongside Fr. Ambrosoli for one year and having seen his “marvelous hands as a surgeon” at work, sometimes performing very difficult surgeries.
Describing Fr. Ambrosoli as a “very talented doctor”, Fr. Egidio explained during the September 21 interview, “First, he became doctor then Priest. But God gave him the talent of surgery. He had marvelous hands as a surgeon, able to perform the most difficult operations, so that little by little his name spread all over Uganda, and even across the borders, reaching Kenya, Sudan and even Ethiopia.”
“People from all over these countries were coming to Kalongo to have surgeries on certain cancers, asthma and other very complicated surgeries done. He was a man of God and a man of the sick,” Fr. Egidio recounted about his confrere. He said that Fr. Ambrosoli was drawn to the plight of the poor women in Northern Uganda who lost their lives in pregnancy related complications and started a midwifery school to train as many physicians as possible to help the women. Fr. Ambrosoli went to Kampala to further his studies, obtained permission to start the school and started admitting hundreds of young women who became midwives.
The Comboni Missionary also had great love for the lepers and he was the first to admit lepers in his hospital, Fr. Egidio recounted, adding, “He explained to other patients that the lepers were like every other person even without fingers, feet and other body parts that had been damaged. He explained that since they were cured, it was okay for them to interact with others in the hospital.”
Fr. Egidio recalled that his confrere was “such a pious and good man” who he said would never have been beatified without a miracle. He recalled a miracle in 2008, when a woman named Lucia arrived at the hospital in need of an emergency cesarean section. The woman, Fr. Egidio said, was going to die because of a septic cesarean section. “The baby had been dead for three days in the woman’s womb because the woman lived in the bush and when she reached the hospital, she was already in a very terrible condition,” he said.
“The available doctor tried his best to perform a cesarean section quickly and closed the abdomen. At that moment the woman entered septicemia, which is a very generalized bad infection of the body leading to death. Being in a rural hospital, there was no hope, humanly speaking,” Fr. Egidio narrated. He said the doctor brought an image of Fr. Ambrosoli holding a child, and with some of Lucia’s relatives and some nurses who had gathered around, they prayed for the woman who was in a coma and left her to spend the rest of the night with the image of the Italian Priest.
At 6 a.m. the following day, the doctor rushed to the hospital and found the woman in a good condition and she recovered within very few days, Fr. Egidio recalled, and added, “A commission of five doctors in Rome examined all the medical papers and concluded that the healing was inexplicable humanly speaking. The Pope in 2009 declared this a miracle.”
Away from his medical profession, Fr. Ambrosoli was a very humble and pious man who was always praying during his free time. “What struck me most about Fr. Ambrosoli was (his being) humble. He was always smiling, talking softly, never shouting, and he was so good even in correcting people who made mistakes. He never humiliated the wrongdoers,” Fr. Egidio said.
He added, “Fr. Ambrosoli was a man of prayer. Walking 200 meters from his house to the hospital, Fr. Ambrosoli used to say the Rosary in silence. And in the evening when everybody went to bed, he would walk in the garden say the Rosary. In the Church, he was so humble, kneeling down, closing his eyes; you would feel he was a man deeply adoring Jesus.”
“From a tender age he loved Jesus and he went to Mass every day. And when he was in university, he used a motorcycle to go to different villages to teach the youth Catechism. He was a man of God from a very young age,” the Italian-born Comboni Priest who spoke to ACI Africa from Como where he tends to the medical needs of his 21 confreres said.
He said that Fr. Ambrosoli’s mother, Palmira Valli, was also a very religious woman who contributed so much to the character and to the sanctity of his son. “Palmira was a woman of prayer, of faith and when Joseph was two years old, he got enteritis, a very bad disease, and he was going to die. His mother ran to the Church and, raising Joseph to the Virgin Mary’s statue, she said ‘Dear Mother Mary, my son is dying. If you were to save him, I consecrate him to you. You can do whatever you like with him’. This means that the vocation of Fr. Joseph Ambrosoli started at that very moment,” Fr. Egidio told ACI Africa.
[Agnes Aineah – ACI Africa]
For 20 years, Fr. Egidio Tocalli stayed in the same room that had hosted Fr. Giuseppe Ambrosoli, a member of the Comboni Missionaries who ran a hospital in Uganda’s Archdiocese of Gulu, and slept in the bed where the Priest who is set for beatification on November 20 had slept. In an interview with ACI Africa, the 79-years-old Comboni Missionary Priest narrated with enthusiasm how blessed he feels to have ministered alongside Fr. Ambrosoli, and thereafter, to have taken over the management of Kalongo hospital where the Italian Priest had, for decades, attended to patients with love.
“For 20 years, I was blessed to stay in the same room that Fr. Ambrosoli had stayed, sleeping in his bed as I worked at the hospital,” Fr. Egidio said in the Wednesday, September 21 interview. The Italian-born Priest first met Fr. Ambrosoli when he was only a Seminarian in London and later, in 1977 when he joined his confrere in Kalongo in Northern Uganda after completing his medical studies in Italy and practicing surgery in England.
At the time, Fr. Ambrosoli who arrived in Uganda in 1956 had worked through blood, sweat and tears amid the country’s worst civil war that pitted authorities against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and managed to convert a local dispensary in Kalongo into a full-fledged hospital that performed the most complicated surgeries in the East African nation, sometimes attracting patients from neighboring Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia.
A year later, Fr. Egidio who spoke to ACI Africa from Como in Italy where he provides medical services within his community said he was obliged to move to Pope John Paul Aber Hospital, another missionary health facility about 140 kilometers away from Kalongo, to the leprosy center of Alito health center still in Northern Uganda, and later to a Parish of the Archdiocese of Kampala in Uganda, before he learnt of Fr. Ambrosoli’s death on 27 March 1987.
He recalled the suffering that Fr. Ambrosoli endured in his last days, especially when he was forced to flee from the hospital he had fought hard to grow into a state-of-the-art facility that also admitted hundreds of girls who were trained to become midwives. To Fr. Egidio, his confrere was “a martyr of charity” who gave his all, choosing to fight for the welfare of the hospital instead of seeking treatment for his kidney disease.
“Fr. Ambrosoli, alongside other Sisters and Nurses who worked at the hospital in Kalongo were obliged to leave Kalongo at around 4 a.m. Unfortunately, they saw fire going up in Kalongo and they thought that the rebels were burning the hospital. He must have been deeply hurt. You imagine the pain of Fr. Ambrosoli! This was one of the things that took him to his death – the sorrow,” Fr. Egidio said.
He added, in reference to the Comboni Priest who is remembered for his immense love towards lepers, “Although he was a man of faith, offering everything to God, as a human being who had spent 31 years in Kalongo, the hospital was like a child to him. The pain must have aggravated the kidney disease he succumbed to.”
“From that point of view, we consider Fr. Joseph Ambrosoli a martyr of charity. In fact, he could have left Uganda in time and gone back to Italy to have a kidney treatment or transplant. But for his love of the school, he remained in Uganda to look for a place for them in West Nile, at the center of the missionaries,” Fr. Egidio who was ordained Priest in 1968 told ACI Africa. Fr. Ambrosoli succumbed to renal insufficiency, Fr. Egidio said, adding that the Priest was so selfless that he decided to stay behind and ensure that staff and students at the hospital and midwifery school were settled after they were obliged to leave Kalongo.
“Instead of going to Italy to seek treatment for his kidney problems, Fr. Ambrosoli asked the superiors to stay around to look for a different location for the school of midwifery. He spent more than one month going up and down up to West Nile, in a struggle that contributed to the deterioration of his health and finally led to his death,” Fr. Egidio said about his confrere.
Interrupted by war, Fr. Ambrosoli was reportedly forced to move all the hospital staff, 150 patients and 1,500 soldiers and civilians to Lira, still in Northern Uganda, in 1987 on military orders. It is in Lira that the Comboni Missionary died, though his body was exhumed and relocated to Kalongo seven years later. Following Fr. Ambrosoli’s death, Fr. Egidio, who had also served the poor patients in Northern Uganda for years, also struggling amid the civil war, was asked to take over the management of Kalongo hospital. He admits to having been hesitant to go back to the hospital and midwifery school that had remained abandoned for years, as the LRA fighters wreaked havoc in the region.
“I remained in Kampala for nearly a year after the death of Fr. Ambrosoli. I was in a Parish trying to learn Luganda but one day, in 1990, my superior told me to go back to reopen the school in Kalongo, assuring me that the situation in the area had calmed down a little. I was very hesitant at first, and recounted the suffering I had gone through at the other hospital still in Northern Uganda,” Fr. Egidio narrated during the September 21 interview with ACI Africa. He recounted the “magic words” that his superior told him, assuring him of his late confrere’s protection, saying, “My superior reassured me that Fr. Ambrosoli was there, waiting for me. These were the magic words that convinced me to go.”
“I remained in Kalongo through the civil war for 20 years, struggling to perform medical operations on women day and night,” he said, adding that by 2010, having prepared some locals to run the hospital and midwifery school, he asked for permission to return to his native country, Italy. The Comboni missionary recalled the difficulties he endured in Kalongo that forced him to go back to Italy. “I was living in constant fear of the rebels and I couldn’t sleep. There was shooting day and night and I realized I was no longer able to sleep at all and before becoming sick, I was advised to stay in Italy to treat my confreres in our houses,” the Comboni Missionary Priest recalled. He added, “Today, I am here in a community of 22 in Como and I help them when they are sick and also help in celebrating Mass and hearing confessions in the Parishes here.”
The Italian Priest expressed optimism that Fr. Ambrosoli’s beautification will finally happen after being postponed for two years owing to the coronavirus pandemic. “We have been postponing the feast for two years because of the COVID-19 but now we hope that God will help us on November 20 to finish the proclamation of Fr. Ambrosoli being a Blessed Holy man in Heaven,” he said, adding that Fr. Ambrosoli is “a very good example for the Church in Africa, in Italy and all over the world.”
[Agnes Aineah – ACI Africa]