On Thursday, 12th November, we woke up to the sad news of Brother Elio Croce. He was an Italian Comboni Missionary who dedicated his life to serving the vulnerable people at St. Jude Children’s home and patients at Lacor hospital. Brother Elio served at St. Mary’s Hospital, Lacor Technical Department with dedication.
Fr. Ruffino Ezama, a Comboni Missionary priest and provincial superior of the North American Province of the Comboni Missionaries working in Cincinnati, Ohio was among the first members of the congregation to post a message on Facebook about the passing away of Br. Elio. His post read at 1.44 am read; Another Comboni Missionary, Brother Elio Croce snatched from us by Covid-19 in Uganda. He survived Ebola in Gulu in 2000 and the war in Northern Uganda. May the Almighty receive him in eternity.
At the beginning of the week, one of the leading daily newspaper, The New Vision’s headline was; CORONAVIRUS CLAIMS TWO PRIESTS. 20 STUDENTS INFECTED. The two belonged to the congregation of Comboni Missionaries as well. Brother Benito Ricci was a former treasurer of Gulu Archdiocese and Fr. Jesus Aranda worked at Palorinya Refugee Camp. They died from Lacor hospital. The death of Brother Elio from Mulago hospital in Kampala was very painful to the community in Northern Uganda that was already grieving.
Who was Brother Elio? Brother Elio arrived in Uganda in 1971. He was the brain behind the Technical Department of St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor and arguably most of the buildings at the hospital were constructed at his supervision including the St. Daniel Comboni chapel at the hospital.
During the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1993, Brother Elio a major role in the construction of structures and other engineering works for the function at Kaunda grounds. He was meticulous in carrying out his work. Brother Elio was instrumental in Gulu Archdiocese construction works in general.
Brother Elio was also the Director of St. Jude Children’s home, Bar dege in Gulu. He had immense love and cared for vulnerable, underprivileged children at the orphanage. He ensured that they got a good education by paying them to good schools. I remember seeing Brother Elio at Bishop Angelo Negri Primary School on Visitation days. He visited the children that he took care of. Some of them had been amputated. He provided them with very modern wheel chairs to ease their mobility.
Dr. Anna Lawino who worked at St. Mary’s Hospital, Lacor had very kind words for Brother Elio. She said Br. Elio was very friendly and served with dedication. He was very friendly to both medical staff and patients too. He would greet us and talk to us just to find out how we are doing. Dr. Lawino described Brother Elio as a selfless man and real humanitarian. He wasn’t working for money but serving humanity and vulnerable people.
The Provincial Superior, Comboni Missionaries , North American Province, Fr. Ruffino Ezama in his eulogy said, “ I cannot hide my tears for the passing on of Bro. Elio Croce. He was a selfless gift of his life in the Comboni Family to serve the poor and needy. The last time I talked to you was two months ago. We talked about the pandemic and you told me that Uganda was not experiencing many deaths maybe due to the sunshine. The virus has snatched you away from affection but not from the hands of God. May you be received into God’s hands for life eternal! We will miss you here but intercede for us from God’s Kingdom.
The Provincial Superior of Comboni Missionaries in Uganda, Fr. Achilles Kiwanuka his communication said Br. Elio Croce will be laid to rest on Monday, 16th at Lacor Hospital under the big tree where heroes of Lacor have been buried . The funeral mass will be at St. Joseph’s Cathedral at 10am but only for limited number of people and SOPs will be followed strictly.
In this moment of pain and loss, Fr. Achilles urges us to find consolation in Romans8:35-37 “Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ even if we are troubled or worried …………These are the trials through which we triumph , by the power of him who loved us.”
May he rest in peace.
Jimmy Odoki Acellam is from the Archdiocese of Gulu. He regularly visits Lacor hospital checking on patients and sometimes accessing treatment.