08/31/2009, 00.00
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Fr. Augusto Colombo, who brought the Dalits to university, dies

by Piero Gheddo
In over 60 years of mission in Andhra Pradesh, Fr. Colombo proved the consequences of the Gospel in development: homes for the poor, cooperatives, legal offices to defend lands, health care for lepers, schools, hospitals, to places reserved in universities for Dalits.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Father Augusto Colombo, one of the most representative figures of the Indian Church in the defence and promotion of “outcastes” (untouchables or Dalit), died in India. Born in Cantù (Como) in 1927, as a priest of PIME he left for India in 1952, for the state of Andhra Pradesh, where the institute has worked since 1855. Those were the years in which the pariahs were becoming aware of their marginalization and were turning to Buddhism and Christianity. Augusto was one of the founders of the Diocese of Khammam (1988) with three parishes. In nearly sixty years of mission in India, in addition to pastoral work he produced a number of initiatives for the promotion of Dalits: homes for the poor, cooperatives for the production and sale of tradition craftwork, the “Farm of Praise”, which won awards in India for the production of "miracle rice," his commitment to the legal defence of Dalit lands, rural banks to fight against money lenders, health care for lepers, education, handcrafted work for women (embroidery and Cantù lace), wells, adult literacy, etc..

Augusto was dedicated primarily to Dalits, founding schools for their education from primary through to high school level.  The last time I was in India (2005) he led me to see "Colombo Nagar", or "Colombo City”, not far from Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra. Where there was once only barren and stony country, Fr. Augustus built the Institute of Technology and Science, which today has 1,500 students and every year sees between 140-150 engineering graduates, in five different specialties. Half the places are reserved for outcasts and Catholics, who have great difficulty in gaining places in other institutions of higher learning. Around this university the city of Colombo was born! Everything is owned by the Diocese of Warangal, one of 12 founded in India and Bangladesh by PIME.

Given the success of his first university, 12 years ago in Warangal, Father Colombo bought a newly built modern hospital with 600 beds, soon to become one thousand. Next to the hospital there is the beginnings of construction, destined to become the University of Medicine, the second Catholic one in India (the first is in Bangalore). Augusto called three orders of nuns, specialised in healthcare and hospitals to manage the different departments (also including the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate). The hospital is already operative, but state recognition for the university is still uncertain, due to strong opposition to Christian initiatives in this field. Previously, Augusto had founded a leper colony and three hospitals and had succeeded in getting the Regional Eye Hospital in  Warangal to organize work camps, sending its young doctors to work with the medical team of Prof. Innocente Figini of Como, who for twenty years, for 10-12 days a year offers his services free of charge in a health centre founded by Father Augusto; who was also dedicated to the blind (founding a centre for specialized care) and who had recently built a hospital for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, which has been up and running since 2005.

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