NAMUGONGO – A sixty-two year old woman is among thousands of foot pilgrims walking long distances to reach the Uganda Martyrs Shrine, Namugongo for the feast of the Uganda Martyrs Day on June 3.
Anna Aciro, has walked the entire distance from Zombo, a district near DR Congo, to Kampala to honor the memory of 22 Catholic saints and the 23 Anglican martyrs who lost their lives because of their faith between 1885 and 1887.
Ms. Aciro, has told us it’s her second trek to the Namugongo, located in Kampala.
“I last walked in 2015,” she has told PML Daily adding that “I walk because I want to identify myself with the martyrs who were killed at Namugongo”.
“I also want to pray to God to help me in some of my problems. Last time I got what I prayed for at Namugongo”.
Ms. Aciro is among thousands of pilgrims – some older, most younger – who are trekking from within Uganda and beyond for the annual Uganda Martyrs Day observance, set for June 3.
The Uganda Episcopal Conference, the umbrella assembly of catholic bishops in Uganda noted that apart from Ugandans, pilgrims are expected from the United States, Nigeria, Mexico, Malawi, Italy, Zambia, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Ireland and United Kingdom.
Other countries include Vatican, Germany Canada, Kenya, Rwanda among others.
A visit to the shrine on weekend, a brief estimated indicated that at least 10,000 pilgrims had arrived with many enroute to Namugongo.
Several Masses are celebrated daily with thousands of people attending.
Kenyan Charles Oundo said that he has walked to the shrine each year since 2014 for the observance.
”We have walked from Kenya in different groups. Several parishes and dioceses organized their people to walk to Namugongo. This time we are over 200 pilgrims from Nyanza province,” he said.
On weekend, a sombre mood hit another group from Kenya after an accident at Bulanga, in Mayuge district left 4 Kenyan pilgrims dead.
Police said a Tax Reg No. UBD 860W rammed into the pilgrims who are on their way to Namugongo leaving two dead on spot while two others died from the hospital.
Police Spokesperson Fred Enanga said that four others are still nursing wounds in Jinja hospital.
On the same weekend, FDC strongman Dr. Kizza Besigye, met and encouraged the Uganda Martyrs Day pilgrims from Butare catholic Parish, Buhweju district, western Uganda who currently on their way to Namugongo Uganda Martyrs Shrine.
Dr. Besigye, who was flanked by Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago encouraged the pilgrims to soldier on in their journey amid ululations.
Among the pilgrims is Buhweju MP, Francis Mwijukye, an FDC stalwart.
The Uganda martyrs are a group of 22 Catholics and 23 Anglican converts to Christianity in the kingdom of Buganda, now part of Uganda, who were executed between Jan. 31, 1885, and Jan. 27, 1887.
Witnesses recorded the deaths, detailing how they were chopped by axes and later burned by fire in Namugongo, a village at the time.
Some of them reportedly died while singing songs praising God.
They were killed on orders of a king, Kabaka Mwanga, also known as Mwanga II of Buganda.
The deaths took place during a time of religious struggle for political influence at the Buganda royal court. The incidents also occurred against the backdrop of the Scramble for Africa.
A few years after, the English Church Missionary Society cited the deaths to enlist wider public support for the British acquisition of Uganda.
The Catholic Church beatified the Catholic martyrs in 1920. They were canonized in 1964. June 3 was set as the day to celebrate the martyrs.
A basilica was constructed at Namugongo, the place where the martyrs were killed, and later several other structures were put in place to accommodate people who arrive to celebrate the day.
Uganda, and particularly the shrine, is the only place in Africa, and probably among the few in the world, visited by three popes.
The only other African countries to have been visited by at least two popes are Cameroon, Angola and Benin, all visited by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
In 1969, Blessed Paul VI was the first pope to visit Uganda.
He had canonized the martyrs five years earlier.
St. John Paul II visited Uganda and the shrine in February 1993.
He celebrated Mass, which authorities said was attended by more than 500,000 people.
Pope Francis visited Uganda and Namugongo in November 2015.
The Inspector General of Police, Mr Martins Okoth-Ochola has already directed police commanders to deploy on major routes that are being used by the pilgrims.
In an Internal memo signed by Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mr Asuman Mugenyi, Mr. Ochola has tasked regional, district and division commanders to ensure that pilgrims who are trekking to Namugongo are safe.
Police units tasked to protect pilgrims include Kampala Metropolitan Police which has over 2,000 Field Force Unit police officers; the Counterterrorism Unit which has close to 1,000 cops in Kampala and other police officers in the general police section.
This year, the celebrations at the Catholic Martyrs Shrine are being organised by Gulu Diocese.