By John Agaba
The stage is set. Uganda thirsts for the Martyrs’ Day celebrations. Over 10, 000 pilgrims from all over the world are already gathered at the Namugongo Catholic Shrine to pay homage to the 22 Catholics and the 23 Anglicans who were killed by Kabaka Mwaga in 1886.
Pilgrims from Israel, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Canada, the USA, Nigeria, and from all over the world, have already come in. But these are not the only ones.
Pilgrims drawing holy water at Namugongo Martyrs shrine
The Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Kimbowa, the Namugongo Parish Priest, said they expected more.
“This place is going to be full. We are talking hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the world. People have come from Nigeria. People have come from Germany. This day means a lot to them and to the history of the church,” the Rev. Fr. said.
Women selling rosaries at the Namugongo shrine
And indeed it means a lot. By about noon Monday, there was an influx of pilgrims headed for Namugongo. Right from the Kyaliwajala trading centre, there were long queues of pilgrims heading for the Shrines; they were winding.
Security has been beefed up by Special Forces, CT, military, anti riot and ordinary police
People were dancing and singing. They have walked long distances and the sight of their final destination (Namugongo Shrine) was so big a delight for them to ignore.
Pilgrims have been arriving for days to fill the Shrine grounds in preparation for tomorrow
Inside the Shrine, it was a beehive of activities. Some pilgrims were kneeling, holding their rosaries in hands, praying.
Some were kneeling, confessing their sins, ahead of the D-Day. And yet some were singing. There were others who were sleeping, perhaps from the weariness after trekking long distances. And others who were involved in business — selling crafts, rosaries, food and drinks.
A delegation from Butembo-Beni diocese in Democratic Republic of Congo an arrival at Namugongo for the Martyrs' celebrations.
And this young man who decided to come celebrate the Martyrs’ Day with his camel, was pragmatic. He charged sh3000 for one to climb onto his animal and revere the moment.
A young man is cashing in for a mount on his camel
But, on the whole, the air is ripe, for the Martyrs’ Day celebrations. Sr. Clevina Karikwera, from the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Bernadette, Lulenge, Ngara Diocese, in Tanzania, said coming to Uganda to witness the grounds where over 40 people were killed for Christianity, was a dream come true.
Police patrolling at Namugongo Catholic Martyrs' shrine
“It is a wish for all followers of Christ to visit these holy places. The places have history. And as a Christian, you really don’t want to die before you visit these places. It is my first time here. And the atmosphere is really captivating. Look at all these people,” the sister said.
Pigrims pray at the spot where St.Charles Kalooli Lwanga died for his faith
These martyrs died for what they believed in. And as Christians, they are our role models. This is why you see all these people here. Some came all the way from Korea,” Sr. Juliet Kato said.
Anjela Mosaba Muniko, from the St. Albert’s Girls High School, in Migori County, Kenya, said they believe that if they pay homage to the martyrs, they get special favors.
Women bathe a baby as temparatures sore
“They say that when you have any illness and you drink this water (from the man made lake at the Catholic shrine) you get cured. I have not taken it. But I will carry some for the other students we left back at school,” the senior five student said.
Her school mate, Christine Ausino, said they were using water from the ‘holy lake’ while bathing, just in case they have some impurities.
People have set up small eateries to cash in on the business opportunities
“It is our first time in Kampala. I want to go inside the Basilica and touch the ground where Charles Lwanga’s remains (one of the martyrs) were buried. After, I will visit all the other places. I want to see where all these martyrs were killed.”
Pilgrims are still arriving at Namugongo
“We belong to the legion of Mary, back at our diocese. But the Uganda Martyrs mean a lot to us. They are like our martyrs too. They are our symbol faith. So, we had to come here. Even last year, we were here,” Jean Marie, from the Doruma-Dungu Diocese in Congo, said.
Pilgrims raise their hands in prayer. Many come to pray for the intercession of the Uganda Martyrs
The security at tomorrow’s celebrations led by the Kotido Diocese, is maximum. There is the Special Forces Group, the one that guards the president. There is the anti-riot police. There is the counter terrorism police. There is the military police — all ensuring security.
The road from Kyaliwajala to Seeta, passing by the Shrines, has been cut off. All cars stop in Kyaliwajala. Everyone, including nuns, has to pass through metal detectors to access the Shrines.
And the Kyaliwajala Road is one way. No cars are allowed to leave Kyaliwalara to Kireka.