KAMPALA: More than 2,000 pilgrims from the Fort Portal Diocese led by their Bishop Rt Rev Robert Muhiirwa Akiiki arrived at the Namugongo catholic shrine on Tuesday evening amidst pomp, ululation, and jubilation. Fort Portal, which last animated the Martyrs’ Day celebration 25 years ago made the triumphant entry into the minor Basilica led by the Uganda Prisons Band.
The arrival of the pilgrims from Fort Portal changed the atmosphere at the shrines as excitement engulfed the faithful and residents of Kira who stood by the roadside to catch a glimpse of the Christians. The group, which spent days on the road arrived in Kampala on Monday morning and spent the night at Busega. They embarked on the last stretch of their trek, which climaxed a quarter to 7:00 p.m.
Shortly after stepping at the spot where Charles Lwanga was killed back in 1886, Bishop Muhiirwa who was received by the parish priest, Rev Fr Vincent Lubega, recited a prayer. Quoting from the bible, the Bishop thanked God who took care of the group for over 300kms.
On arrival, many Pilgrims could hardly support themselves as they went through security checks. Some of the pilgrims opted to sit down while others soldiered on, awaiting to enter the shrines.
Fr Phillip Kamugisa, the assistant Kaziinga parish priest broke into tears perhaps due to joy and recalled their journey, which he described as hard. He noted that they braved rain, coldness, and other conditions as they walked in faith to pay homage to the Uganda martyrs.
Kamugisa noted that on the first day, the Bishop flagged off 700 people but the numbers kept swelling along the way with several pilgrims joining them. The youngest pilgrim on the team was 14 years while the oldest was 80 years.
Kamugisa noted that several people were dropped off along the way while a few others lagged behind and would often be transported to the next stop by the medical teams or police, which moved with them all the way from Fort portal.
He explained that during the first days, the pilgrims who were trekking day and night had shortages in crucial medical supplies but they soon got refills from several medical teams, which saw them cover the nine days and arrive on time as planned.
Didas Rukundo from Kagoma parish explained that the journey was exciting as people from the parishes where they were resting cared for them by providing free meals.
Rukundo said they were worried about road crashes but God protected them all through arriving without any incident. He is grateful to the Uganda police force that guided them on the roads and provided security in all the places they took rest.
Roza Kiizi said she was happy that God enabled her to walk the journey safely despite having been washed clean by the rains.
Alice Musoke who left Kasese on May 20, 2022, and joined the Fort Portal pilgrims on May 23 had no complaints about the trek. This being Musoke’s maiden pilgrimage, she said that she is excited and can’t wait to pray for the intercession of the martyrs.
This year’s foot pilgrimage follows the two-year lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the government ban all kinds of public gatherings to stem infections.
Annually, faithful believers from across the world gather at Namugongo Martyrs Shrine on June 3 to commemorate the 45 Catholic and Anglican martyrs who were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, the then King of Buganda. This year’s celebration is being held under the theme “Baptised and sent to witness Christ with love and hope”.