“It was a blessing”: Priest on Working with Confrere Set for Beatification in Uganda

Fr. Egidio Tocalli poses for a photo with a lay missionary near the Tomb of Fr. Giuseppe Ambrosoli. Credit: Fr. Egidio Tocalli/ Comboni Missionaries

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.


Fr. Egidio Tocalli and Fr. Giuseppe Ambrosoli in an undated photo. Credit: Fr. Egidio Tocalli/ Comboni Missionaries

 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.

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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.

Lucia Lamokol, the woman who received healing at Kalongo hospital, leading to a probe into the possibility of Fr. Giuseppe Ambrosoli's intercession. The probe was performed by a team of medical doctors in Rome.

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.”

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“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.

Dr. Erik Domini (on the front row) poses for a photo with staff and midwifery students at Kalongo hospital in Northern Uganda. Erick is the doctor who asked to pray seeking the intercession of Fr. Ambrosoli for a woman who was in a comma. Credit: Fr. Egidio Tocalli/ Comboni Missionaries

“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 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.