Pilgrims from across the world have started arriving at Namugongo Catholic Shrine, a week to the 2018 Uganda Martyrs Day (UMD) celebrations.
By Tuesday 22nd May, 2018, over 50 people had already arrived in small groups, with the largest delegation being that of 12 foot pilgrims from St. Kagwa Catholic Parish Bushenyi in Mbarara Ecclesiastical Province. The Bushenyi pilgrims arrived at Namugongo on 22nd May, 2018 having left their home on 9th May 2018. Among the foot pilgrims in that group is Mzee Bernado Tibyangye, who is in his 90s, also the oldest pilgrim to arrive at Namugongo so far.
“This is my seventh year in a row to come here for this celebration,” Mzee Tibyangye said in an interview adding “When I was young I used to pray through St. Andrew Kaggwa, one of my favorite Uganda Martyrs, and I would always ask him to intercede for me so that my faith grows stronger each day.”
“This year, I want to ask the Uganda Martyrs to intercede for my family for peace and provision as well as other unmarried families so that they can be able to respond to God’s calling. I also want God to heal my feet so the pain that I am feeling can stop. This healing will be a testimony to many old people so that they can start coming for this pilgrimage,” he added.
Prior to this Namugongo pilgrimage, the 90 year-old had visited Our Lady of Kibeho Shrine in Rwanda twice last year in the months of July and September for a spiritual pilgrimage. Kibeho a small village in Rwanda is known as a place of apparition where the Virgin Mary appeared in 1981.
The Bushenyi group also comprised of two minors, Crescent Tindimwebwa 11 years and Bamwesigye Bruno aged 10 years. The two young pilgrims, who came with their grandmother, are now referred to by many as ‘Kizitos’, one of the youngest Uganda Martyrs.
“This journey wasn’t easy as I spent almost 14 days walking on foot. But, God gave me courage and strength to keep walking and I know that He will surely bless me. This is my first time to come for this Namugongo pilgrimage, and I came to pray for healing because I have a problem with my eyes and legs,” said an excited Crescent.
Other first pilgrims to arrive at Namugongo include Janete Owitia Merci, 67 years from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Owitia, who is the first International pilgrim to arrive, started her journey on Friday 18th May by bus, and arrived on Monday 20th May.
According to the person in charge of pilgrims at Namugongo Catholic Shrine, Emmauel Obong, the foot pilgrims are camping on the shrine grounds ahead of the June 3 celebration.
“More than 50 pilgrims started arriving here over the weekend. We have put up a tent outside the Church that they can use for shelter ahead of the UMD celebration. We expect thousands more to arrive during the course of the week,” said Obong.
Meanwhile, about 7,000 foot pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Tororo have started their pilgrimage to Namugongo today 25th May 2018, and are expected to officially enter the Shrine on 31st May 2018. The pilgrims were blessed and officially flagged off by the Archbishop of Tororo, Most Rev. Emmanuel Obbo on Sunday, 20th May 2018 at the Uganda Martyrs Cathedral in Tororo. The Archdiocese will lead this year’s UMD celebrations.
International pilgrims from the following countries have also notified Uganda Catholic Secretariat about their attendance: Malawi (110), Tanzania (330), Kenya (300), South Africa (63), Nigeria (40), Zimbabwe (21), DRC (524), Japan (7) and USA (12).
Pilgrims, especially those who intend to travel to Namugongo on foot, have also been advised to go for thorough medical check-up before starting the journey to avoid injuries along the way or preventable deaths.
The Uganda Martyrs Day celebration usually attracts millions of enthusiastic pilgrims from across the world. Millions of these pilgrims usually travel by air, by bus and on foot to mark this celebration which transforms many people’s lives. Their (Uganda Martyrs) intercession has transformed many lives and has become the source of strength amid the challenges and difficulties many Christians go through in their lives.
In the Catholic Church, the Martyrs are venerated for their heroism in professing and witnessing to their faith. They have an intercessional role for those who are still struggling in life’s journey to join them triumphantly at the end of their earthly lives.
The June 3rd celebration usually marks the commemoration of the heroic faith of the Martyrs, both Catholic and Protestant, who were burnt to death on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, the then king of Buganda between 1885 and 1887, for refusing to denounce their faith.
This year’s celebrations will be unique as it will mark 100 years since the martyrdom of Daudi Okello and Jildo Irwa, the two young catechists that were killed at Paimol, Agago district in 1918