By Hillary Nsambu & Taddeo Bwambale
The Rev. Fr. Joseph Pietro Archetti, who started Reach Out Mbuya HIV/AIDS Initiative to help needy people living with HIV in Uganda, has died aged 80.
Archetti, an Italian and formerly a parish priest of Our Lady of Africa Parish, Mbuya, died on Thursday in Milan, Italy, according to Rev. Fr. Paulino Mondo of Mbuya Catholic Parish.
A post on the Comboni Missionaries website announced Archetti’s demise. He was due to celebrate his 80th birthday today.
As a priest, he served for 49 years, much of the time in Uganda. Aged 28 years old, Archetti travelled to Uganda on an evangelism mission under the Comboni Missionaries shortly after independence in 1962.
In May 2001, together with Dr. Margrethe Junker and the Christian community, Archetti set up Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative. The facility, which began with 14 clients, now serves over 20,000 people with HIV / AIDS and cares for over 1,200 orphans and vulnerable children.
Using a holistic model that integrates medical and spiritual care, the initiative is regarded as one of the most successful HIV projects in Africa.
The Reach Out Mbuya (ROM) centre was one of the places visited by former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during her 2012 visit to Uganda.
Mission to Uganda
He often visited parishioners in their homes, encouraging them to care for one another and solicited funds to treat people living with HIV.
This led to the start of the ROM initiative which serves communities of Kinawataka, Banda, Nakawa, Giza Giza and Kasaala (Luwero), where care centres have been established.
In 2003, ROM started receiving PEPFAR (The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) funds, enabling the organisation to start paying school fees for HIV/AIDS orphans.
Archetti, born in 1934 in Barescia, north Italy, joined seminary in 1945 and was ordained priest in 1960.
Two years later in 1962, he arrived in Uganda. He settled in Luwero as a parish priest for several years.
From 1962 to 1969, he was in charge of about 30 schools left by the White Fathers missionaries in Kasaala, Luwero district.
In 1977, he travelled to Belgium for further studies. Although there was political instability in Uganda at the time, he returned two years later and headed to Gulu Catechist Training Centre.
He spent three years at the centre before going back to Italy. Upon his return, he served (1989 to 1997) in Namugongo, before taking the reins at Our Lady of Africa Parish, Mbuya in 1997.
In 2008, Archetti was diagnosed with cancer, underwent an operation and was put on chemotherapy.
After more than 48 years of service in Uganda, Archetti returned to Italy in 2010.
A laboratory technician works on blood samples of people living with HIV
Fr. Archetti’s work in Uganda
Archetti built churches in Kinawataka, Banda and Giza Giza suburbs. He was instrumental in transforming St. Kizito secondary and primary schools in Bugolobi.
He was regarded as a spiritual motivator for palliative care services in Uganda while he was the chaplain to Hospice Africa Uganda from 1994 up to 2000.
He was fluent in Luganda and Luo local dialects. Archetti often conducted mass and translated texts from English into the local dialect. His last visit to Uganda was in June last year.
He often cut a well-shaven beard and walked to Namugongo every June 3, in memory of his first visit to Uganda.
Government mourns Archetti
The health ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr. Asuman Lukwago, said Uganda has lost an icon with a ‘strong’ contribution to Uganda’s fight against HIV.
“The Government recognises the great job Archetti has done by creating a strong outreach campaign that has been critical in HIV prevention and care,” Lukwago said. He added that Archetti was a perfect example for religious leaders in the fight against HIV.
In one of his recent letters, Archetti wrote: “Another truth that becomes more evident is that a community has the means and the power to sustain itself: she needs only somebody who can direct its energy in the right way.”
Dr. Margrethe Junker, co-founder of ROM: The world has lost a beautiful person. We have lost a priest, missionary, friend, role model and true father. When Archetti got sick, he had to move back to Italy but his heart was in Uganda with his beloved people.
Dr. Stella Alamo Tasuna, the former executive director ROM: He was a humble and selfless priest. Archetti was a true image of what Jesus was. He had an unmatched level of humility and a sense of humour. He gave out anything he had and interacted with everyone, regardless of status.
Esther Wamala, founder member ROM: Archetti’s death is a big loss to Uganda. He had a big heart for Uganda and a soft spot for the poor. He believed that even in hard times, one can do something to help other people.
Rose Namisango, a beneficiary: His office was as simple as the life he lived. A simple desk and a few wooden chairs for his visitors was all you could see.
Health ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr. Asuman Lukwago: Archetti was a perfect example of the role of religious leaders in the fight against HIV.
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