Jan 31, 2023

Mawazo Writing Africa

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Namugongo comes alive again with pilgrims

Simon Mugezi sits in the expansive gardens of the Uganda Martyrs Basilica in Namugongo, about 13 kilometers east of the capital Kampala, massaging his swollen and tired legs.

Mugezi, 32, is visibly tired after walking the more than 260 kilometers from Mbarara to Kampala to commemorate this year’s Uganda Martyrs’ Day, which is observed by Christians from across East Africa and beyond every June 3rd.

Uganda Martyrs’ Day is commemorated to commemorate the 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican Christians who refused to renounce their faith and were sentenced to death by burning at the stake on June 3, 1885 by order of Kabaka Mwanga.

Mwanga, then King of Buganda, one of them Uganda’s oldest kingdoms considered the new Christian converts disobedient if they chose to follow a “foreign” religion. Since then, the converts have been viewed by many Christians around the world as martyrs and heroes of their faith.

The martyrs became so significant for the Christian faith worldwide that in 1920 the 22 Catholic martyrs were beatified by Pope Benedict XV. In 1964 they were accepted by Pope Paul VI. canonized, making them the first African saints in Christian history. In 1993, Pope John Paul VI made a pilgrimage. to Namugongo and officially declared the shrine a minor basilica.

Canonized Ugandan Martyrs include Noel Mawaggali, Adolf Mukasa, Mbaaga Tuzinde, Achilles Kiwanuka, Anatoli Kiligwajjo, Baanabakintu Luke , James Buuzabalyawo, Gonzaga Gonza, Pontiano Ngondwe , Denis Ssebugwaawo, Andrew Kaggwa, Mathias Mulumba, Mukasa, Kiriwawanvu and Mugagga Lubowa. Pilgrims to the Namugongo shrines usually pray to God through these saints.

Millions migrate to Namugongo

Almost two weeks before June 3rd, Namugongo was in an ecstatic mood as saint became saint day Committed for the first time since 2019, due to the measures taken to contain Covid-19, which led to the government imposing reservations on travel and public events for almost two years.

After a two-year hiatus, in this The celebrations are expected to draw between two and three million Christians to Namugongo shrines, according to Father Vincent Lubega, Rector of Namugongo Catholic Community, who spoke to The EastAfrican a week before the holy day. p>

“We already have around half a million people camping here and this number is expected to increase to between two and three million people by June 3rd. Indeed, after missing the celebrations for two consecutive years this year, pilgrims arrived here on May 16,” Father Lubega told The EastAfrican on May 31.

Mr Mugezi is one of the 78 parishioners of the Nyamitanga Catholic community in Mbarara who successfully completed the week-long trek to Namugogo to celebrate the Ugandan Martyrs.

“The story of the Uganda Martyrs inspires us to feast in to stay in our faith. If they died because of our faith, then walking a long distance is a small sacrifice for the rest of us to make,” said Mr. Mugezi.

While most pilgrims from across the country walk to Namugongo come from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and beyond that others come by air and road, especially the pious old and the weak from far away.

75-year-old Rachael Wagalinda from Mbale, some 220 kilometers east of Kampala, is one of those who can no longer walk, so this year she took public transport to Namugongo.

“This is the 10th time that I attend these celebrations but when I get older I won’t be able to walk long distances, so I came by car,” she said. “I still come here because the story of the celebration inspires a sense of unity among us pilgrims.”

According to Father Lubega, it doesn’t matter if you travel from home to Namugongo on foot or by car .

“People come here mainly for spiritual renewal. So how they get here doesn’t matter as long as they get spiritual support from us,” he said.

Christians die on the streets

The way of faith has never existed was easy, and while Christians celebrate the martyrs killed for their faith, others still die en route to Namugongo. The long trek takes its toll and pilgrims collapse from exhaustion and unfortunately others die in traffic accidents.

For example, on May 29, a pilgrim from Rubirizi district, about 360 kilometers west of Kampala, collapsed and died more than 10 days of trekking.

Jackine Arinaitwe, 49, who was among 102 Anglican pilgrims who set out for the Anglican shrine in Namugongo, died just two kilometers from Namugongo as a result of an extreme case of fatigue , which could have raised her blood pressure.

In 2017, Scovia Moro, a mother-to-be from the Catholic Diocese of Lira, lost her life while traveling the 342 kilometers when she collapsed along Bombo Road and died , only about 20 kilometers to the end of their journey.

Foreign pilgrims were not spared either. In 2019, four Kenyan pilgrims – Sarah Adhiambo, Godfrey Abaga, Kevinah Akila and Roselyn Mutunga – were hit by a commuter minibus taxi (matatu) along the Iganga-Tororo highway as they were walking along with other 106 elderly pilgrims from the Bungoma Catholic Diocese in Bungoma migrated County.

Two decades earlier, another Kenyan pilgrim, John Kibe, also died on the road when he was hit by a speeding minibus taxi on the Jinja-Kampala highway.

Death Next Away from the road, some of the Christian believers who gather in Namugongo to celebrate the holy day sometimes cannot find their way back to their homes and end up at the venue.

Im In 2019, 65 pilgrims were reported stuck after the celebrations in Namugongo, including 14 children from Mbale, Wakiso, Kayunga, Mubende and Mbarara districts.

During the last celebrations in 2019, Uganda became The Police ei recorded 46 cases of phone theft and more than 40 arrests, some of th Criminals include those selling counterfeit drinks.

However, apart from the negative aspects of the celebrations, the communities in Namugongo usually benefit of the business opportunities that large communities always offer.

This year – as in previous years – the locals have set up small shops on the Basilica grounds and in the surrounding area, selling items such as clothing, jewellery, soft drinks , sell alcohol, snacks and rosaries.