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 was buried in Chacas on 5th December.
As reported by CNA, 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. 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. Operation Mato Grosso volunteers are currently serving in dozens of communities in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.