Kampala/Gulu — THE Christian season of Lent started yesterday with claims that visions of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary had appeared to people at three different places in northern Uganda.
In Gulu town, excited residents, many of them primary school pupils, rushed to an MTN mobile phone mast following rumours that a manifestation of Christ had been sighted at its top.
The mast in Labour Line parish became the centre of attraction, and by 5 p.m., many people had gathered at the site, jostling for space and craning their necks hoping to catch the rare sight. Although it was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian season of repentance and introspection, some Muslims were visibly caught up in the excitement as well.
"Come, come, come look over there, between those two bars, do you see him, do you see him...? He [Jesus] is standing between those two bars," excited onlookers were heard saying.
Eric Odongo, one of the onlookers, claimed he first saw clouds on top of the mast and that Jesus appeared to be standing amidst clouds.
"I saw Jesus standing on top of the mast. He was standing between two people and was putting on a white cloth. His hair was black," Mr Odongo claimed, in a description that was echoed by many more at the scene. Reporters, however, did not see anything, and Herbert Omoding, the MTN Assistant Engineer in Gulu, said he had seen nothing unusual.
The incident attracted the attention of Gulu Anglican Bishop Nelson Onono Onweng. "I was nearby when a young man came telling us that Jesus had been sighted on the MTN mast. We all laughed him off but when I was leaving the town I saw thousands of people around the mast. Acholi are indeed in a war situation," the prelate said.
"The Bible does not tell us when Jesus will appear. It does not tell us that he will appear on a mast or on a mango tree. So I don't believe in the whole thing."
His Catholic counterpart John Baptist Odama declined to comment. The Gulu account was the latest in a series of similar claims.
In Pajule in Pader district some residents recently claimed they had sighted Jesus, attracting Christians who prayed at the nearby Grace Primary School. And hundreds of Christians in West Nile and neighbouring DR Congo were reported to be congregating at Nyapea Catholic Mission in Nebbi district in the hope of viewing what is said to be a miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary.
Eyewitnesses said a crowd of curious men, women and children quickly made their way to the nuns' quarters in the vicinity of Nyapea Catholic chapel to catch a glimpse of the sacred image said to be glowing from a pine tree. An unnamed teenage boy is reported to have first seen the apparition on January 9 and reported it to the area parish priest, the Rev. Fr. Robert Ngageno.
It is said that on failing to see it, Fr. Ngageno then contacted his colleague, Rev. Fr. Emilio Onegwa, who was able to see something. "Such miracles happen. I have seen such images on three different occasions. I appeal to Christians for more prayers to strengthen their faith," the septuagenarian cleric said. There were those, like Job Ondoga, the chief of Okollo sub-county, who left disappointed.
The Bishop of Nebbi Catholic diocese, the Rev. Martin Luluga, yesterday said the alleged divine occurrence was complicated and declined to draw any theological inference. History is rich with tales of similar apparitions elsewhere.
One of the most prominent is the account of three young children in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal, that they saw a vision of the Virgin Mary on several occasions, turning the small town into a major international destination for pilgrims.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY WAROM FELIX OKELLO AND MOSES ODOKONYERO