By Juliet Lukwago
It is exactly 45 years today since Pope Paul VI visited Uganda, a trip that came five years after he had canonized the Uganda Martyrs in Rome on October 18, 1964.
The Pope landed at Entebbe at 3:00pm on July 31, 1969 aboard an East African Airways flight. On arrival the Pope was received by the then President of Uganda, Milton Obote and first lady Miria Kalule-Obote.
Thousands of Ugandans were at Entebbe airport to see the Pope arrive on July 31, 1969
His three-day official visit (July 31-August 2), saw him travel to the Martyrs’ Shrines in Namugongo where most of the 22 martyrs were murdered by Kabaka Mwanga in 1886.
He blessed the Altar at the current Catholic Basilica.
The Pope also visited the Protestant martyrs’ shrine where he plugged a wooden pictogram to recognize the Anglican Martyrs, who too died for the same cause.
The pictogram is currently placed in their church near the Martyrs graveyard.
The Pope shown here blessing a woman at Namugongo
During his visit to Uganda, Pope Paul VI also addressed the Parliament
The Pontiff held a High Mass at Kololo Independence Grounds attended by most of the east African presidents.
He addressed parliament, bishops and cardinals at and episcopal conference in Kampala, met representatives of the Moslem community and visited the sick in selected hospitals in the city.
In commemoration of the historic visit, the catholic community in Uganda has organized a string of prayers.
There will be a service at the martyrs’ Shine at 5:00pm local time on Saturday.
In October 18 this year, the Catholic Church in Uganda will celebrate 50 years since the canonization of the Uganda Martyrs.
Records from archives at Kampala Archdiocese indicate that the Pope started his pilgrimage to Uganda six weeks after visiting Geneva.
African leaders (L-R) Col. Michael Micombero (Burundi) Dr. Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia) Dr.Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) Dr. Milton Obote (Uganda) and Dr. Gre’goire Kayibanda (Rwanda) pose for a photo with Pope Paul VI (centre) in 1969
In his speech to an extremely excited crowd in Uganda, the Pope reportedly repeated in the most varied forms the theme of His homily at the ceremony of canonization.
“Together with the Christian religion, evangelization introduces a principle, which tends to arouse and develop the native energies and virtues and the latent abilities of the local population.”
The Archbishop of Kampala, Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, disclosed that Pope Paul VI was the first reigning pontiff ever to visit sub- Saharan Africa.
The contents of a Pepsi-Cola bottle (right) from which the Pope took a few sips has been preserved at Lubaga Cathedral.
This is the same place where a museum of articles, including vessels and ceremonial and other official dresses left behind by outstanding clergies, are kept for tourists.
Retired bishop of Hoima diocese, Edward Albert Baharagate, who witnessed the visit, says Ugandans of all creed and religions burst into ululations and jubilation as the east African Airways plane touched the tarmac at Entebbe.
“It was a different moment that is hard to describe when the doors of the East African Airways Super VC10 carrying the Holy See touched the ground accompanied by four military jets flying in echelon flung open,” Baharagate said.
Uganda's president at the time, Milton Obote, and his family pose with the visiting pontiff
He added that it is also hard to describe that moment when the Pontiff appeared in the doorway and waved to the mammoth crowd that reciprocated from the house tops of the airport, overlooking the runway as he descended the stairs and kissed Uganda’s soil.
His journey from Entebbe to Lubaga Cathedral where he was received by Tanzania’s Cardinal Laurean Rugambwa, took the Pope two hours because of the human traffic as everyone craved to shake hands with the Holy See.