"We revere Namugongo because some people offered their lives at the palace for professing their faith," Fr Lubega.
PIC: Christians praying infront of the Grotto of Mary at the Namugongo Catholic Shrine on Tuesday. (Credit: Mathias Mazinga)
NAMUGONGO - The New vision recently conducted a survey, in which the readers gave their views on how the Church can take advantage of the Uganda Martyrs to make money out of tourism.
The Rector of the Catholic Shrine, Fr Vincent Lubega responded to the views in a subsequent interview.
The Rector of the Catholic Shrine, Fr Vincent Lubega during the interview on Tuesday. (Credit: Mathias Mazinga)
Qn: The readers gave interesting strategies that can help Namugongo to get tourism money. Can you consider them?
Ans: I thank the readers for the love and concern they have for Namugongo. But even before I respond to the respective suggestions, I would like all our people to know that Namugongo Catholic Shrine is a unique religious site with a sacred orientation.
We revere Namugongo because some people offered their lives at the palace for professing their faith.
Their self-sacrifice is what attracts the pilgrims. People come here basically to emulate the devotion of the Uganda Martyrs and to pray for their intercession. It is thus the element of faith and sanctity that attracts pilgrims.
So, whatever development that people desire for Namugongo must be looked at from the faith point of view.
Qn: The readers proposed that the Church uses social media to promote Namugongo, can this work?
are working on this. We have a website which we use to tell Uganda, Africa and the world about the Uganda Martyrs, further to keeping them abreast with the religious programmes at the shrine.
Similarly, we use the website to market the shrine to the international media.
Qn: What about the proposal to build shops around the shrine and sell items related to the martyrs?
Ans: A souvenir shop where pilgrims can access and even buy items about the martyrs is fine and we already have one.
But for commercial shops I say no because Namugongo shrine is not a market where people sell merchandise for profit. It is a holy ground where people come to get spiritual nourishment.
Qn: Have you tried out charging entrance fees?
Ans: It is not proper to charge pilgrims who come to have a faith experience and we will not do that.
What we charge is tourist fee, respective of those people who just come to admire and hear the story of Namugongo for purposes of adventure. The little money the tourists give us is what we use to pay our staff. But even if our visitors are purely tourists, we try to orient them towards faith.
Qn: People suggested that the Church establishes projects like guest houses, hotels and dormitories for improved accommodation. Will it work?
Ans: The primary aim of developing the shrine is to help the pilgrims to uplift their faith. Things like hotels area bytheway which come as a consequence of our spiritual attainments.
What is more important is to put in place the necessary spiritual activities that will help people to deepen their faith. In view of this, we have ensured that we satisfy the spiritual needs of the people who come here.
We the priests are available all the time, to attend to our people. Pilgrims must be helped to fulfill their expectations when they come here.
They must be helped to repent their sins, to get holistic healing and ultimately to renew and deepen their faith.If you don't focus on faith, the proposed hotels and guest houses will be useless.
A Bilboard of the martyrs at the Catholic Shrine.(Credit: Mathias Mazinga)
By the way, 90% of the money that we get and use to maintain the shrine is offered by the pilgrims who come for spiritual reasons. The tourists contribute only 10%.
So, faith is what we should primarily focus on.After all, even without the hotels, hundreds of pilgrims have been leaving their comfortable homes, come here and sleep on verandahs!
Qn: What do you have to say on the proposal to introduce entertainment activities?
Ans: We shall reduce the holy shrine of the glorious martyrs to a mere theatre if we bring here secular entertainment. No kind of need should make us to lose focus of the religious aspect and sanctity of Namugongo. People come here not to entertain their eyes but to get the joy of heart that neither music nor dance can offer them. Let us make Namugongo a place where people find this joy. The shrine will therefor flourish forever.
Qn: Have you tried to invest in visibility?
Ans: I don't think it is cost effective. The better alternative is to introduce more spiritual programmesthat attract Christians to the shrine.
That is why we have introduced activities like the mini-pilgrimages. Exhibiting different cultures and traditional foods at the shrine is also not ideal. Probably that can be done outside the shrine.
Qn: What do you think about setting up a museum?
is very ok and actually we are working on it. We just have some challenges with funds.
Qn: Do you have a strategy for attracting pilgrims throughout the year?
Ans: As I have already mentioned, we have introduced more activities. Archdiocesan functions like youth day, children's day, among others, now take place at Namugongo.
Qn: Which of the proposals have you tried out already?
Ans: We have tried to upgrade the facilities at the shrine. We have also got ambassadors like the Knights of St MatiaMulumba, who promote the devotion of the Uganda Martyrs overseas.
The devotion to the Uganda Martyrs is strong in countries like Nigeria, UK and the US.
We have also partnered with government to promote faith tourism. The annual Martyrs Walk of Faith at Munyonyo is now organised by the Uganda Tourism Board. Provision of hassle free access infrastructure and the widening of the road to Namugongo is the business of government.
Pilgrims praying at the Shrine on Tuesday. (Credit: Mathias Mazinga)
Qn: Which proposals do you find improper?
Ans: The proposal to create a second pilgrimage day can not be considered. Individuals and groups of people make pilgrimages of faith on other days other than June 3.
So, to us every day is a pilgrimage day. That is why we are ready for the pilgrims every day.
The proposal to get Namugongo out of the control of the Church and gazette it as a pure tourism site is also unthinkable.
The idea of taxing businesses on June 3 cannot also be entertained since business is not our major focus. Namugongo is a historical site, whose history is defined by the faith of the martyrs who were killed there.
So, no amount of need should tempt us to divert from our goal of maintaining Namugongo as a holy place where people come to be inspired by the devotion of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda.