Fr. Antonio Grugni has died, a life spent serving Christ in the poor and lepers
The priest was born in Legnano 77 years ago. He arrived in India as a layman, he understood that being a simple doctor "was not enough". In 2005 he founded the "Sarva Prema Welfare Society" in Fatimanagar, to treat people with TB, HIV and leprosy. Pime Superior in India: "He was known for his simplicity and dedicated service to the health and educational development of the poor and needy".
Warangal (AsiaNews) - Fr. Antonio Grugni, a PIME missionary (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions), died yesterday in Eluru, India, at the age of 77. Affected since last July by a stomach cancer, he was admitted to the Good Samaritan Cancer Hospital in Vangayagudem. Born in Legnano (Milan) in 1941, he had come to India in 1975 as a cardiologist. Here, in contact with the lepers of the Lok Seva Sangam (Society for the service of the people) of Fr. Carlo Torriani in Mumbai, he understood that being a simple doctor, "was not enough": he had to put himself at the service of the last.
In 1989 he was ordained a priest; in 2005 he settled in Fatimanagar, in the diocese of Warangal (Telangana), where Fr. Augusto Colombo created some health facilities for the rehabilitation of patients suffering from leprosy, HIV and tuberculosis. Here he founded the "Sarva Prema Welfare Society", to treat those sick, just as Jesus would do. In a recent interview, he told AsiaNews: "If Christ were here in India, he would do the same: cure the sick. Rayarala Vijay Kumar, the regional superior of PIME in India, remembers him thus: "He was known for his simplicity and dedicated service to the health and educational development of the poor and needy. The Sarva Prema Welfare Society has become the major channel with which it rendered its service and the way to transmit the love of God to the poor and the most marginalized in society ". Dr. Pascoal Carvalho, a Mumbai physician who met him, said: "I express my condolences to the PIME family for this sad loss. He was a good doctor, he was loved by all of us and struggled for life ". The funeral will take place today in Fatimanagar. Below we present the interview that he gave us a while ago, in which he speaks of his vocation and mission.
Even as a child, "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."