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Uganda witnesses first beatification fete on home soil

A portrait of blessed Guiseppe Ambrosoli unveiled after his beatification by the Papal Nuncio to Uganda Archbishop Luigi Bianco on Sunday in Kalongo Town Council, Agago District

Agago, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | There was pomp and excitement as the catholic faithful gathered on Sunday in Kalongo town council, in Agago district to witness the rite of the Beatification of Venerable Dr. Joseph Ambrosoli.

During the Eucharistic celebration, precisely after the penitential rite and before the singing of the “Gloria”, John Baptist Odama, the Archbishop of Gulu Archdiocese, petitioned the Church to consider the venerable servant of God after which his biography was read as required by the church.

With everyone in attendance standing on their feet, the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bianco read out the letter from Pope Francis verbatim in Latin. Although the majority didn’t understand the foreign language, everyone clapped, filling the room with joy. The degree declaration was later read in English by Archbishop Odama.

A picture of the now-blessed Dr. Ambrozoli was unveiled and later his relics were placed in a small white box flanked with dances some clad with angelic wings were brought to the altar.

The beatification of Fr Ambrozoli is the first of its kind on Ugandan soil despite the fact that the country already has a few saints listed in the Catholic Church’s annals.

In the Catholic Church, beatification is the process of determining and proclaiming that a deceased person has gained a second degree of holiness. Through this process, a person who has been a “Servant of God” is raised to the level of Blessed, one step before being raised to sainthood.

“With now over 22 saints (the Uganda martyrs) and two blessed (Blessed Daudi Okello and Jildo Irwa), Uganda has never witnessed this wonderful ceremony,” Most Rev John Baptist Odama of Gulu Archdiocese said in an interview.

Archbishop Odama said that formerly all beatifications, and canonizations were done in Rome but for the case of Fr Dr. Joseph Ambrozoli, his beatification has been decided by the Pope to take place at Kalongo where he worked so that his life inspires the people he worked with.

Beatification has been in the catholic church since 1662 and historically such ceremonies could be presided over by the Pope in person. However, information obtained from the congregation for the cause of saints indicates that this was reformed by Pope Benedict XVI back in 2004.

According to records, Benedict’s decision not to preside personally at Beatification rites was a response to the widely felt need to “give greater emphasis in the celebration to the substantial difference between Beatification and Canonization; and to involve the particular Churches more visibly in the Beatification rites of their respective Servants of God.”

It is also stated that the church wanted to draw distinction marks between rites of Beatification and Canonization as many people were failing to see the substantial difference between the two.

“It is opportune from now on that rite of Beatification should take place in the Diocese that has promoted the new Blessed’s cause, or in any other more suitable place in the same Ecclesiastical Province or Region,” Cardinal José Saraiva Martins Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints wrote informing of the new change.

With changes made, the Holy Father appointed a Representative who will officially read the Apostolic Letter with which the Roman Pontiff himself concedes the title and honors of a Blessed to the Servant of God in question. In this case, conducted by the rite was presided over by Papal Nuncio to Uganda archbishop Luigi Bianco.

The need to involve the local church was a high score, it appears that the locals always yearned to know what could have been taking place. For instance, when Uganda Martyrs were beatified on June 6, 1920, not many locals in Uganda could have known about the event which was thousands of miles away within the wall of the Vatican.

To drive this home and relate the function’s importance, Mill Hill Fathers led Rev Fr Stephen Walters to organize a foot pilgrimage to the sacred place where Charles Lwanga, who is seen as the head of the Ugandan martyrs met his death.

The pilgrimage took place on the same day that Pope Benedict XV beatified the Uganda Martyrs and records from various sources show that on the same day Rev. Fr. Walters proposed building a church over St. Charles Lwanga’s grave near the location where twelve martyrs had been burned.

Since then, countless pilgrims from all walks of life have traveled there to honor the martyrs.

Similarly, thousands of catholic trekked Kalongo Catholic Parish where Fr. Ambrosoli worked as a Parish priest and also ran a dispensary which he later transformed into the now famous Dr. Ambrosoli Memorial Hospital Kalongo during his more than 30 years’ mission in the region.

Many people in attendance couldn’t hide their happiness to have witnessed the event with many like Ruth Akello whom our reporter talked to noting that it is enriching their faith.

Whereas Uganda is seeing beatification for the first time on its soils, in neighboring Kenya such an event has been witnessed a record two times. The first time happened in May 2015 when Sr. Irene Stefani was elevated to be blessed. Early this month, an Italian-born Catholic Nun Carola Cecchin was also named so at an event that took place in Meru.

With several beatification causes lined up in Uganda, Fr. Ambrosoli fete might just be the first among many to come. Currently, the Catholic Church in Uganda is also advocating for the beatification of Monsignor Aloysius Ngobya, and Sister Amedeo Byabali of Bwanda Convent. The two have been elevated to servants of God.

Separate processes have been set into motion to fast-track the beatification of Fr. Siméon Lourdel (Mapeera), the first catholic priest to preach the gospel on Ugandan soil. Other candidates fronted include Teresa Kearney (Mary Kevin), Declan O’toole, and Priest of the Mill Hill Missionaries both already raised to the level of Servant of God.

There are also three brave women namely Claira “Kalaala” Nalumansi, Kabaka Mwanga’s biological elder sister, one Musubika, and Cecilia Nalusiba who are believed to have been martyred.

Born in 1923 on the 25th of July in Italy, Fr Ambrozoli was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Sacred Heart of Jesus popularly known as Comboni Missionary (MCCJ) in 1951.

In 1955, he came to Uganda and was sent to Gulu Archdiocese at Kalongo Dispensary, the health facility he transformed and spent almost 36 years serving the people there. He died on 27th March 1987 in Ngetta, in the current Lira Diocese following a kidney complication.

His beatification process commenced under Pope John Paul II on July 17, 1999, after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued no objections to the cause and titled Ambrosoli a Servant of God.

Pope Francis confirmed a miracle attributed to Fr. Ambrosoli following the miraculous healing of a woman who had developed sepsis at Matany Hospital after she developed a miscarriage 18 years after his death. In July this year, the relics of Fr. Ambrosoli were brought back to Kalongo Catholic Parish from Rome in Italy in preparation for the beatification.

The beatification of Fr Dr. Joseph Ambrosoli comes after 20 years when Blessed Daudi Okello and Jildo Irwa the two martyrs of Paimol, a place in the same region, were beatified in 2020 in Rome by Pope John Paul II, now a Saint.

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