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The pain of Namugongo's loneliness

By Carol Kasujja

Added 1st June 2020 11:27 AM

The place is virtually empty; only three women were praying in the compound.

The pain of Namugongo's loneliness

A lady prays from the compound of Namugogo Catholic Shrine. Photo by Lawrence Kitata

The place is virtually empty; only three women were praying in the compound.


For the first time in many years, the annual Uganda Martyr's Day pilgrimage to Namugongo will not take place.

The COVID-19 pandemic preventive measures require social distancing, which cannot allow it. The celebrations, which involve pilgrims from all over the world converging to meet and pray together, have now been reduced to a gathering of no more than 30 persons.

By this time, the shrines at the Catholic and Anglican Churches would be steaming with crowds. But on Friday, last week, it was loneliness in Namugongo. The Anglican shrine was closed.

The security guards at the entrance were playing cards and not eager to attend to our business.
At the Catholic side, we found only three cars in the parking lot, the novena prayers had just been concluded. The security at the gate did not even bother asking us so many questions about our visit.

We found a few men manning machines and fixing something.
CThe lake, where believers draw holy water, was calm and the water looked green. The innovation of 2016 cordoned the water off the public, allowing access only through taps on the wall. But some of the taps were not working.

The entire place looked so beautiful, especially the place where Holy Mass is always celebrated. Masaka Diocese, which was going to animate at the Catholic shrine, had started constructing more showers because pilgrims usually complain of lack of bathing places. However, some of the construction stopped.

Outside the shrine gate, we found truck drivers seated on the fence, chatting about the relief food the Government is distributing to alleviate the lockdown effects.
They were complaining that the food had not reached them yet.
We asked them how they feel, now that Namugongo celebrations will not take place, and their answer shocked us.
"We are happy," they said.
"On a normal June 3 day, we would not even be allowed to sit on this fence. But now, we can even enter and draw our water freely," said one, who identified himself as Siraje Waiswa.

The annual celebration was set aside in honour of the martyrdom of 45 young men who converted to Christianity between 1885 and 1887 to the annoyance of the then Kabaka of Buganda Mwanga II.

Mwanga ordered that they be killed. Millions of pilgrims descend on Namugongo, the site where the majority of the converts were martyred, in celebration of their bravery.

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