Father Giuseppe Ambrosoli doctor and priest on mission

The mission of the Church in the world needs men capable of making the Good News intelligible. It has always been this way since Our Lord conferred the Mandatum Novum on the apostles, under the banner of evangelical charity. Therefore, if after two thousand years we can continue to cultivate the virtue of hope, it is above all thanks to the spirit of donation that has animated, in the course of two thousand years of history, an unspeakable number of saints and blessed. Among these there is one who, after two years of waiting and postponements due to the pandemic, will be beatified on November 20 in his mission in Kalongo, in northern Uganda: Father Giuseppe Ambrosoli. He is a Comboni missionary, doctor and priest who spent his life in the service of the least.

Born on 25 July 1923 in Ronago, in the province of Como, he was one of the sons of the founder of the homonymous honey company. From 1942 to 1950, the young Ambrosoli completed his classical and professional training and laid the foundations of a solid spirituality that had already had the opportunity to manifest itself in the apostolate among the young people of Catholic Action. With great zeal, he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine with the desire to leave for the mission: “God is love, there is a neighbor who suffers and I am his servant,” he explained to his family. In 1949 he visited the superior of the Comboni Missionaries of Rebbio (Como) with the intention of putting them at the service of the mission ad gentes his qualification as a doctor. Having received the consent, he asked for a period of reflection before finally deciding to enter the missionary Congregation. After completing her specialization in tropical medicine “Tropical Hygiene” in London, with enthusiasm and without regrets, she left behind the ease of family conditions and a medical career that promised to be brilliant at home. He entered the Comboni novitiate in Gozzano (Novara) on 18 October 1951 and four years later, on 17 December 1955, he was ordained a priest by the then archbishop of Milan and future Pope Giovanni Battista Montini. This period properly marked the completion of Father Ambrosoli’s religious-theological training. On 10 February 1956 he left for Uganda, with destination Gulu (capital of the north of the country). From here he moved to Kalongo in East Acholi, while he was following and finishing his final year of theology studies at the Lachor Intervicarial Seminary (Gulu). His missionary service took place in that portion of the Acholi people that occupied the extreme east of the current archdiocese of Gulu.

Northern Uganda – it should be pointed out – is an immense undulating plain, with an extension of about 50,000 square km, broken from time to time by some scrub and rocky mountains that rise majestically and give a plastic image to a landscape in which the equatorial sky seems to embrace everything it watches over. The average altitude of this territory is around one thousand meters above sea level, but this does not prevent it from being one of the hottest areas in Uganda. To the north the plain rises slightly towards the mountains of Ogoro and Paloga, which serve as a natural border with southern Sudan; these are hills that were once used as a refuge by the rebels.

The landscape is however seductive in the eyes of any traveler. There are immense savannas, in the rainy season with very tall grass, with some scrub where it is possible to find refreshment when the sun is at its zenith. And it is precisely in the eastern sector of this territory, downstream of an enormous and suggestive volcanic granite plug with a difference in height of 500 meters, Mount Oret, that stands the small and hospitable town of Kalongo where Father Ambrosoli spent the rest of his life. his life, exactly 31 years, from February 19, 1956 to February 13, 1987. When he arrived there, he found a small maternity center and a dispensary which he transformed, under his guidance, into a real hospital. In 1959 he founded, also in Kalongo, the School for midwives and nurses with the collaboration of the Comboni missionaries.

In 1972, then, he also took charge of the leprosaria of Alito and Morulèm. The only intervals in which he was absent from Kalongo were the short periods represented by the holidays, often transformed into authentic tour de force to increase his multiple skills in the surgical field and procure funds for the hospital complex.

His fame spread a little everywhere, not only in the Acholi territory, but also among other ethnic groups in the region such as the Lango, but also by the Kuman and Teso. In this regard, there are numerous anecdotes that describe its popularity. The writer, for example, once received diaconal ordination in May 1985, one day went to give baptisms to a large group of catechumens in a village near the leper colony of Alito. The first of them claimed to be baptized with the name of “Doctor Ambrosoli”. To the objection that it was no longer convenient to be called “Giuseppe”, he strenuously opposed it because it was “Doctor Ambrosoli” who saved his life in his hospital.

The fact is that in those parts there are many who bear that name. What struck Kalongo’s patients most was Father Ambrosoli’s extraordinary ability to instill hope. It was not a matter of simple professional consistency, but of a total transport and participation in what he was witnessing, and not for mere external appearance but from the depths of his own being, so much so as to arouse religious respect in the people. On the other hand he was a contemplative with soul and heart. Initially, he was nicknamed “Ajwaka Madid”, the “white sorcerer” who later earned him the title of “doctor of charity” for his spiritual office. His missionary service was marked by events that positively and even tragically marked the history of Uganda. In fact, he lived the final part of the British colonial season, which was followed by independence, the rise to power of Milton Obote, the advent of the dictator Idi Amin Dada, the return of Obote and the advent of the current president Yoweri Museveni. .

The last years of his life were marked in particular by the guerrillas of which even today Northern Uganda retains deep wounds. Following the repeated clashes between government forces and rebel factions, on February 13, 1987 he was forced to evacuate the hospital in Kalongo. The thorniest question then arose for him: that of finding a suitable place for the creature most loved by him: the School for midwives and nurses. He thus subjected his already severely compromised health to enormous strains which ultimately led to his death from kidney failure. On the afternoon of March 27, 1987 he died in Lira, 44 days after being forced to abandon his Kalongo.

As the postulator of his cause, Father Arnaldo Baritussio, wrote about him: “Ambrosoli certainly contributed to the full inclusion of the medical service in evangelizing practice, which at the time was mainly understood as a proclamation through the Word and the sacraments in view of the foundation of a Local church. Without questioning this basic option, he contributed, with the offer of his medical professionalism, to broaden the concept and reality of the announcement. Service to the sick is an equally noble and necessary way of proclamation as that of preaching ”.

Indeed, he creatively lived the motto “holy and capable” with which St. Daniel Comboni was recognized by the Church, continuing to be a source of inspiration for many missionaries even today. There is no doubt that the seal of heroic love to a whole life spent for one’s neighbor has found its happy continuation in the commitment made through another doctor-missionary, Father Egidio Tocalli (who reopened the hospital in 1990) and Ambrosoli Foundation, established in 1998 by the family of Father Ambrosoli and the Comboni Missionaries to give continuity and future to the hospital and the School of Obstetrics. This is a testimony of fidelity to the Comboni ideal of “saving Africa with Africa”.

from Giulio Albanese

Father Giuseppe Ambrosoli doctor and priest on mission – L’Osservatore Romano