He risked his life to save many people. During the outbreak of Ebola, he stayed with the people he served. He was taken to heaven by Covid 19 on 11 November 2020, at the age of 74 years.
The sun is setting at Lachor Hospital in Northern Uganda. Brother Elio makes his way home after a long day’s work. He is worried at the dreadful news coming from Europe. A virus from China is infecting thousands of people and claiming hundreds of victims. The virus is spreading rapidly. Brother Elio still has vivid memories of what happened in 2000 when the Ebola virus struck Northern Uganda causing hundreds of deaths.
Lachor hospital was hit hard. The doctors and nurses were among the first to die. He knows the new virus will soon appear in Africa. He wonders how he can prepare for the virus, but details are still lacking. Going to his room, he turns on the old wireless that has been his companion for so many years.
Brother Elio Croce first went to Uganda in 1975. He has spent forty-five years in Africa, first as technical director of Kitgum Hospital and then, starting in 1985, of Lachor Hospital.
Bro. Elio has shared all the events affecting the Acholi people. For them and with them, he built hospital buildings, dug wells, and set up technical and agricultural projects. He shared with the Acholi people the terrible decades of the guerrilla war and buried their dead. He has lost count of how many kilometres he travelled throughout the area driving his old Toyota.
Bro. Elio was always attracted, moved and upheld by his faith in Divine Providence, an unrelenting and solid faith that was the indestructible nourishment of a life given totally for the African people. His was a world of building-sites and workshops for carpentry and mechanics and the maintenance of the electrical medical equipment.
During the war years, when no supplies were available, everything had to be made on the spot. Bro. Elio was very capable. He knew how to do things and how to teach others, but he insisted on having everything done properly. By so doing, he helped in the development of the local area. Many were trained at his school, learning a trade and acquiring the mentality of work as an art form. At his urging, many small activities were established. His workers worked hard and well, becoming independent. They knew they could count on Elio.
Many pursued their studies thanks to him. His simple and concrete manner was sometimes sweetly rough though totally honest, with no frills and the experience of a life dedicated to Africa that seemed to exude from the man in dust-covered sandals, challenged and won over (often for life) anyone who approached him. He left no one indifferent; there was always an encounter with his choice of life and a feeling of being at one with him, even when people disagreed with him. Brother Elio, a survivor of massacres and Ebola, was taken to heaven by Covid 19 on 11 November 2020, at the age of 74 years.
On the day of his funeral, Mons. John Baptist Odama, Archbishop of Gulu said: “During the most difficult period of crisis in our local Acholi region, Bro. Elio risked his life to save many people whose lives were threatened. The community of this region can testify that, during the conflict between the rebels and the government forces, Bro. Elio courageously followed the rebels into the bush to rescue those who had been kidnapped, especially the school children.
During the outbreak of Ebola, Bro. Elio stayed with the people he served. Most of all, Bro. Elio used his technical ability as a builder and engineer to develop Lachor Hospital. The modern buildings we see today at St. Mary’s Hospital were planned and supervised by him. In his work, Bro. Elio shared his knowledge and ability with many young Africans in such a way that they could follow in his footsteps. He taught many needy children in the schools to accept the responsibility of serving their brothers and sisters. In the Archdiocese of Gulu, we see Bro. Elio as our hero. His legacy of duty and dedication to the poor, the sick and the most disadvantaged of our community will always be a source of inspiration for us”.