On Sunday, the catholic faithful gathered in Kalongo town council, Agago district, to witness the rite of Venerable Dr. Joseph Ambrosoli’s beatification.
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 dancers, some clad with angelic wings, and 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.
“Uganda has never witnessed this wonderful ceremony with over 22 saints (the Uganda martyrs) and two blessed (Blessed Daudi Okello and Jildo Irwa),” 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 distinctions between the 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 the 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 the changes made, the Holy Father appointed a Representative who will officially read the Apostolic Letter, in which the Roman Pontiff himself concedes the title and honors of a Blessed to the Servant of God in question. In this case, the rite was presided over by the Papal Nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Luigi Bianco.
The need to involve the local church was high; it appears that the locals always yearned to know what could have been taking place. For instance, when the 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 walls of the Vatican.
To drive this home and relate the function’s importance, the 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 Catholics trekked to 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 at having 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 soil, 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. Carola Cecchin, an Italian-born Catholic nun, was also named earlier this month at an event in Meru.
With several beatification causes lined up in Uganda, Fr. Ambrosoli Fete might just be the first of 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 the status of 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 who have already been elevated to the level of Servant of God include Teresa Kearney (Mary Kevin), Declan O’Toole, and Priest of the Mill Hill Missionaries.
There are also three brave women, namely Claira “Kalaala” Nalumansi, Kabaka Mwanga’s biological elder sister; Musubika; and Cecilia Nalusiba, who are believed to have been martyred.
Fr. Ambrozoli was born on July 25, 1923, in Italy and was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MCCJ), also known as Comboni Missionaries (MCCJ), in 1951.
He arrived in Uganda in 1955 and was assigned to the Gulu Archdiocese’s Kalongo Dispensary, a health facility he transformed and served the people of for nearly 36 years.He died on March 27, 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 of this year, the relics of Fr. Ambrosoli were brought back to Kalongo Catholic Parish from Rome, Italy, in preparation for his 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.