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 returned to Kalongo seven years later.
In an interview with ACI Africa in September, Fr. Egidio Tocalli who ministered alongside Fr. Ambrosoli, and thereafter, took over the management of Kalongo hospital, said that Fr. Amrosoli converted 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.
Fr Egidio said that Fr. Ambrosoli is a good example to medics, and explained, “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.”
In his reflection shared with ACI Africa, Fr. Baritussio lauds his medic confrere who he says chose to be a missionary and doctor in such a way that his medical service, precisely in its “most rigorous and competent professionalism”, was lived and expressed by him as “a priestly exercise”.
Fr. Baritussio recalled that upon entering the Institute of the Comboni, in 1949, Fr. Ambrosoli presented a desire to immediately combine the pastoral ministry and the medical service in Africa.
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He says that the dispensary that Fr. Ambrosoli converted into a state-of-the art facility was not a simple hospital but a structure that could prepare other doctors for other hospitals.
The Midwifery School at the medical facility, he says, did not churn out “simple nurses” but “specialized midwives who could fit into public structures.”
This way, Fr. Baritussio says, the missionary medic passed on Christian skills and values “beyond the modest enclosure of Kalongo.”
“In what he did, Fr. Giuseppe was never commonplace, but somehow always made choices aimed at favoring the common good, typical of people who, as Pope Francis affirms in Evangelii Gaudium, believe that ‘time is worth more than space’ and that ‘reality always surpasses the idea’. Fr. Giuseppe, as a missionary, always made time prevail in relationships with people and realism in dealing with situations of any kind,” the Postulator says.
He shares the testimony of Sr. Caterina Marchetti who, after serving alongside Fr. Ambrosoli from 1963 to 1983, says, “Operations numbered about 1200-1700 'year. One year, there were over 1900. That is as far as I can remember.”
Sr. Caterina further recalls, “The administration of the hospital was then carried out by him (Fr. Ambrosoli), during the little free time he had, in the evening or during the night. I assure you that he had everything in order and everything was written down. One wonders how he did it, also because he devoted a lot of time in the evening to prayer.”
Fr. Baritussio admits that Fr. Ambrosoli set a bar that was quite high that was, however, “not meant to deter but to stimulate us.”
“The life of our brother Fr. Giuseppe is truly one of those ‘Talking Lives’ which the mission and the Church are in dire need of. It is worth listening to him and admiring him as ‘Joseph, a gift of God’, the opening words of the song with which they welcomed him when his mortal remains were brought back to Kalongo on the afternoon of April 8, 1994,” he says.
Giving the details of the beatification, the Comboni Missionary Priest says that the Congregation let the local Church choose the small town of Kalongo. He says, “Gulu would have been easier, perhaps even more prestigious, but the 31 years spent in Kalongo by Fr. Giuseppe prevailed, which well represents the radical choice of the ‘mission in the peripheries.’”
“The Lord also chose who should represent the Holy Father to preside over the ceremony, namely the Cardinal of Como, Oscar Cantoni, who is the bishop of the diocese where Fr. Ambrosoli received that splendid spiritual and professional formation that allowed him to engage in complete and effective missionary action,” he says, adding that the beatification in Kalongo will be broadcast in Italy via streaming by the non-profit association "Lights in the world" of Verona.
Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.