Born in Legnano (Italy), he was fascinated from a young age by the care of the sick and became a cardiologist. But then he realised that that was “not enough", and in 1976 took the opportunity to go to India. In 2005 he set up an association that takes care of people living with leprosy, tuberculosis and HIV. Every month, 40 new cases of tuberculosis are diagnosed but more than 90 per cent are healed.
Warangal (AsiaNews) – Fr Antonio Grugni is missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). For the past 40 years, he has served the sick and poor in India.
Even as a child, he told AsiaNews, "I have always been interested in the care of the sick, but gradually I realised that my Christian life was going more and more towards a desire of total giving.”
After working as a cardiologist for eight years in a hospital in Legnano, near Milan (Italy), he came to the conclusion "that I could not go on like this. I had a comfortable life with a stable and well-paid job.” Then “One day they asked me to come to India and I felt like I heard a bell, a calling. I said yes immediately. And I have never regretted it; on the contrary, for me every day is a celebration. I realised my dream; otherwise I would have been an old doctor in Italy, full of regrets."
Fr Grugni, 75, arrived in India in 1976. His "was an adult and conscious vocation. I followed a path of discernment and in 1989 I was ordained a priest." Today he lives in Warangal, Telangana, where in 2005 he founded the Sarva Press Welfare Society (Association of love for universal well-being), which looks after people living with tuberculosis, leprosy and HIV.
The association has a staff of 13: two doctors, seven nurses, a medical expert, a shoemaker who creates special footwear for leprosy patients, the driver of the jeep and an aide.
The value of the work put in by the missionary and his team is recognised "by the government as well as the mostly Hindu population. In a country where proselytising is not only unfair but also unacceptable, the best way is to bear witness with love, helping the poor, those who suffer, the last."
“Patients themselves are struck by the fact that we visit them, help them, give them food, whilst the rest of society keeps them on the margins. It is they who ask us: 'Why are you doing all this for us?'"
“They appreciate the work we do with selfless love,” Fr Grugni noted. “They recognise that there is something special in the approach we have. This is the Christian testimony. Our duty is to lay the seeds, then it is the Lord who makes the seeds grow in the hearts of people. We are like the workers who throw seeds on the ground, then the ground bears fruit."
The medical missionary remembers something the Mahatma Gandhi said about the role of Christians in India. "I wish the life of you Christians spoke to us as does the rose. The rose needs no words, but simply spreads its fragrance. Even a blind person perceives the presence of the rose because he can perceive the scent. This is what I expect from you: that you spread the scent of the Christian message respecting our freedom."
Fr Grugni believes that "if Christ were here in India, he would do the same. He would cure the sick; he would be with people. We try to do what he did in the best way possible. "
With respect to the role of missionaries in Asia, he said that " half of humanity lives in India and China, and most of it is not Christian. Our task is to stand in their midst with an approach of love and compassion. Love is free; it gives freely, with no ulterior motive or goal."
As for the association’s activities, the missionary noted that it "works closely with government health authorities. The latter provide free anti-leprosy, anti-tuberculosis and, in the case of AIDS patients, anti-retroviral drugs."
“It is the government that asked for our assistance, because it knows that we do the job until the end," Fr Grugni said in describing the relationship with the authorities. "When doctors at a government hospital diagnose TB cases, they give us a box with a pharmaceutical kit needed to treat the patient for six months. At that point, individual assistance is left to our responsibility.”
Patients must take the medication in front of the association’s medical staff. "This is the only way to ensure that they follow the therapy." The association’s work is geared towards “the local area and its population,” the clergyman noted. “We go among the people. Every day we visit public health centres and the homes of the sick, making sure they take the drugs."
Thanks to the incessant care and dedication of the association’s members, "recovery rate is very high and exceeds 90 per cent for tuberculosis patients. It is thorough, heavy work, under the summer sun or the winter rains."
Speaking about statistics, the priest said that "40 new cases of tuberculosis are diagnosed per month. In total we follow 250 to 300 patients at any given time, from the start to the end of the therapy."
In the case of lepers, "the medical staff visit in dermatological clinics that treat skin diseases, which are very common in a tropical climate. Examining the body of the patients, they can detect cases of leprosy, which is still stigmatised.”
In addition to the sick, he added, "we take care of the families. We give them some money to send their children to school, and a small pension for the elderly. We build houses, and we give food in the first few months of therapy to help them regain their strength. All these people are poor, simple labourers who need help."
Tasks among the staff are distributed effectively, and "Warangal, the second-largest city in Telangana with 600-700,000 people, is fully covered,” Fr Grugni noted. "When they see us arrive, the sick run towards us, happy because they know that we will help them, that we are there for them."