Priest who served thousands in Peruvian highlands dies at 94

Fr. Ugo de Censi. Credit: Agenzia Info Salesiana.
Fr. Ugo de Censi. Credit: Agenzia Info Salesiana.

.- The Salesian founder of Operation Mato Grosso, a ministry of service and job training for low-income people in South America, died December 3 at the age of 94.

Fr. Ugo de Censi had been bedridden for several months due to an illness, according to several media outlets.

The priest had served for 42 years in in Chacas, a city in the highlands of Peru. To pay their respects, all the parishes where de Censi served in the city rang church bells for 15 minutes, and Masses were celebrated at 1:00 p.m. The priest’s body will be buried in Chacas on Wednesday.

The Agenzia Info Salesiana (ANS) described de Censi’s life as “very intense, sacrificial, full of affection given and received, an example that influenced many young people. He encouraged thousands of youths, founded centers, parishes, trade schools, hospitals, shelters, institutes, seminaries and a monastery, but he especially cared for the poor and young people in need.”

De Censi was born in 1924 in the town of Berbenno di Valtellina, about 55 miles northeast of Milan, Italy. At age nine, he was enrolled in a Salesian school, where he later decided to pursue a priestly vocation. He was ordained March 8, 1952.

In 1966, he met a missionary from Brazil who told him about the suffering of the poor people in South America. From that encounter, a deep desire arose in him to work for those most in need. In 1967, he founded Operation Mato Grosso, an international social aid organization that was begun in Poxoréo, Brazil to build the area’s first school.

De Censi gathered young people in Italy to help with the work. Upon returning to Italy, they began to organize new mission trips to other countries, and the work of Operation Mato Grosso began to spread. The organization invited young people to volunteer to serve the poor, and also offered technical training in skilled trades for low-income people.

De Censi traveled to Peru in 1976, and was installed as pastor in Chacas in the highlands, where he gathered together impoverished children and orphans in the area and opened a sculpture and woodworking shop.

In 1985, he founded the Don Bosco Cooperative, where young people in Chacas could learn and become highly skilled in the art of woodworking. Later on, other centers with different work specialties were founded, including weaving and carving workshops, farms, and plant nurseries.

The priest also took charge in rebuilding and remodeling several churches, building the Mama Ashu Hospital and founding seminaries, convents, Salesian schools, and shelters in the high mountains, as well as the Don Bosco Oratory in the Andes.

Operation Mato Grosso volunteers are currently serving in dozens of communities in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.

“The flame of charity that burned in the Cordillera Blanca of the Andes has gone out, but it will continue to burn in the thousands of young people he has trained,” said Fr. Umberto Bolis, a Salesian priest who participated in the first Operation Mato Grosso mission trip, in an interview with ANS.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Tags: Poverty, Catholic News, Salesians, Don Bosco, South America