More than 5,000 pilgrims from Jinja Diocese have arrived at the Namugongo Catholic Shrine amidst pomp, ululation, and jubilation. Jinja Diocese was selected to animate in this year’s Martyr’s Day Celebrations.
On Wednesday, the pilgrims led by the Bishop Jinja Diocese Charles Martin Wamika, were accompanied by a band as they entered Namugongo. Along the 80 Kilometers walk, the pilgrims were joined by smaller groups, forming a united assembly of faithful on their journey.
The absence of the scorching sun or heavy rainfall favored the pilgrims, as the cloudy atmosphere, accompanied by occasional light raindrops, provided them with a sense of momentum.
One of the elder pilgrims, holding his walking stick and pulling his luggage, expressed his delight, saying, “The weather is truly pleasant, and with such conditions, we will cover this distance in a remarkably short time.”
Upon reaching the Seeta-Namugongo road, the security personnel implemented their plan to block certain roads within the inner security circles. For instance, starting from 10:00 am, vehicles accessing the Kyaliwajala-Namugongo road were restricted, except for emergency vehicles.
As the pilgrims reached Namugongo, onlookers were astonished and paused to watch the spectacle unfold before them. One shop attendant in Namugongo expressed their surprise, exclaiming, “I have never witnessed such a vast gathering of pilgrims before.
They are truly numerous!” The sight of the large group of pilgrims left a lasting impression on those present, capturing the attention and curiosity of onlookers.
Given the significant size of the crowd on the road, it was inevitable that challenges would arise. Those who had placed their merchandise along the route incurred losses as some items were inadvertently affected by the passing crowd.
Additionally, within the pilgrim group, several individuals fainted. Fortunately, the Red Cross, scouts, security personnel, and paramedics were well-prepared to transport them to Zai Angelina Health Centre for prompt medical attention.
At the shrines, Bishop Wamika performed a blessing on the wooden cross, known as the Martyrs Cross, which the pilgrims had carried all the way from Jinja. He then handed over the cross to the Shrine Rector, Reverend Father Vincent Lubega. With reverence, the bishop remarked, “This cross has guided our path. I pass it on to you.”
The cross was adorned with pictures of young Catholic converts who had been martyred for their unwavering faith. After this solemn ceremony, the pilgrims from Jinja were led to the minor Ballisca, which was constructed on the very spot where St Charles Lwanga was brutally executed, as young converts were being led to Nakiyanja, the Anglican site, for their martyrdom.
Upon entering the revered minor basilica, a considerable group of pilgrims approached the altar with utmost humility, prostrating themselves in profound reverence. The resounding theme that resonated throughout the sacred space was their earnest plea, “Lord, increase our faith.”
In addition to their heartfelt prayers, the pilgrims also lifted their voices in harmonious songs that paid tribute to the Uganda Martyrs, honoring their remarkable sacrifice. This collective expression of devotion and supplication contributed to the deep spiritual ambiance within the holy basilica, enveloping all present in a sense of awe and reverence.
Later, the Bishop led the pilgrims in a brief public prayer and bestowed his blessings upon them. They were then directed to a designated resting area, while those in need of medical attention were guided to medical tents specially prepared for their care.
Annually, faithful from across the world gather at Namugongo Martyrs Shrine on June 3rd to commemorate the 45 Catholic and Anglican martyrs who were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, the then King of Buganda.
Fr. Stephen Walters from the Kampala Diocese, which was under the Mill Hill Fathers and had its Cathedral at Nsambya, led the first pilgrimage to Namugongo in 1920. At that time, the Kampala Diocese included all the present-day Lugazi and Jinja Dioceses, stretching from the Nakivubo channel all way to Kenya.
However, on August 5, 1966, the seat of Kampala Diocese was transferred to Jinja, and the See was renamed as Diocese of Jinja comprising the entire region of Busoga. The remaining part of the Kampala Diocese was annexed to the Kampala Archdiocese.
It can be said that Jinja diocese has a significant historical connection to the pilgrimage to Namugongo. Additionally, two of the 24 martyrs, Matia Mulumba and Gonzaga Gonza, have their origins in Busoga. Matia Mulumba is from Kyebando in Mayuge district and Gonzaga Gonza is Bugonza in Kaliro district.