EVERY February 17th, many Catholics make a pilgrimage to Mapeera-Kigungu to commemorate the arrival of the religion on the soil of Uganda.
Over 130 years ago, the first two French missionaries landed at this site in Entebbe just 27 miles from Kampala city. They were led by Rev. Fr. Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans, later nick-named Mapeera and Amansi by the locals
. The day was February 17, 1879. Little did they know that 130 years later, the movement they started would be stronger and the biggest religious denomination in Uganda.
The landing site is located at the shores of Lake Victoria.
The place is well maintained, has big, nice looking and lovely grounds where people can rest or get entertained. It is protected as the original centre for research on the Catholic religion.
This yearâ€™s 130th anniversary was celebrated with mass led by the Archbishop of Kampala Diocese Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. The function was graced by Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, Auxiliary Bishop of Kampala, Christopher Kakooza, Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa of Masaka, Bishop Joseph Willigers of Jinja and several priests from different parishes in the country.
According to archives from the Catholic literature at Kigungu, Mapeera and Amansi left Marseilles (their native place) with the First Caravan of White Fathers on April 22, 1878 and landed in Zanzibar on June 17. The Caravan then ventured on foot into the interior of Africa. Of the ten missionaries, two braved the wilderness, northwards, crossed Lake Victoria and arrived in Uganda.
From Kigungu cape, they continued to Rubaga, spent a night at Kisubi where they planted a tree called Mapeera. Nearby, there is a secondary school named Mapeera SS in memory of Father Mapeera.
When Kabaka Muteesa I learned of their arrival at Kisubi, he had them taken to Kitebi, about two and half miles from Rubaga, where they spent 15 days, shivering with fever, at times without food.
Fr. Mapeera then informed Kabaka Muteesa I that they were on a mission to establish a Catholic Mission in Uganda.
The Kabaka approved of their coming to his kingdom on February 23, 1879 and promised to send canoes to fetch their colleagues.
Matlida Bunjo, 80, a resident of Kigungu, says the place got its name from the a tree near the lake called Kigungu, where fishermen used to hung their fish for drying. She says there was so much fish and few people to eat it.
â€œSometimes, they (fishermen) abandoned their catch at the site out of frustration because there were no people to eat the fish.â€
Kigungu has changed with the times. From mud and wattle, Bishop Edward Michaud (1933- 1945) built a shrine out of fibres and grass. Now it has bricks and tiles. Pilgrimage to Kigungu started in 1960â€™s by the then parish priest Fr Joseph Kyeyune and the well-wishes.
Today, many catholics have joined in the annual celebration. The current parish priest of Bugonga, Father Joseph Ssebayigga, is responsible for this shrine.
Kigungu received missionaries in 1879