3 June 2013

Uganda: Martyrs Day Celebrations - Uganda Invites Pope Francis

The Catholic Church has invited Pope Francis to Uganda. The request was made by the Archbishop of Mbarara archdiocese Paul K. Bakyenga who was the main celebrant at the 125th anniversary of Martyrs Day Monday.

Thousands of pilgrims flocked Namugongo shrine on Monday to take part in celebrations organized by Mbarara archdiocese.

Archbishop Bakyenga asked the Apostolic Nuncio to invite Pope Francis to Uganda. The Eucharistic celebration started at 10.00am.

The day was a culmination of several days of trekking, sacrifice; prayer and meditation by pilgrims in commemoration of the 22 Uganda Catholic Martyrs who were murdered in 1886. The Catholic shrine is built at the spot where St. Charles Kalooli Lwanga was burnt.

The well-organized celebrations were punctuated by songs of praise that drew ululations from the throngs of pilgrims. As if to make their mark as the organizers of the celebrations, the Mbarara archdiocese choir sang beautiful hymns in Rukyankole, accompanied by youthful dancers bedecked in red and white. These danced to most of the hymns giving the celebrations a very colourful atmosphere.

Their style of praise was unmistakably a manifestation of the rich Kinyankole culture. One could hardly remain rooted to their seat as they danced to the hymns.

Pilgrims braved the scorching sunshine. The congregation though was kept on their feet as they sang hymns of praise and ululated, their arms raised high up in unison, lost in prayer. They were beautiful, tearing scenes that could melt any stone-hearted person.

The songs of praise were led by a charismatic priest, a Fr. Joseph Ruzindana whose powerful voice reverberated over the entire shrine, calling on pilgrims to praise the Lord and be proud for having reached the historic day.

Moment of triumph

As per the day's programme, at 9:30 prompt the procession of the clergy started making their way to the pulpit below the main shrine at a small man-made lake.

Excited pilgrims ululated as they realized the fruits of their dedication to prayer, meditation, fasting and sacrifice that led up to the day. They sang and praised as a colourful procession of priests and bishops made their way down to the pulpit.

The congregation came alight with renewed vigour as the unmistakable garb of the main celebrant, His Grace Paul K Bakyenga making the tail of the procession, became more visible among the sea of people.

At this moment, several members of the organizing committee led by Vision Group's Chief Operations Officer, Gervase Ndyanabo, who was the chairman, pumped their fists in utter satisfaction of having organized successful celebrations.

This was the climax of a tireless planning and organisation by Mbarara archdiocese. The preparations began October 2012. Hundreds of ushers too were at hand to guide pilgrims around the premises.

Gospel acclamation

In a unique way the gospel was delivered in a heavy basket carried by one of the priests. The ceremony that lasted about 10 minutes was symbolic of the significance of the word of God. Amidst applause from the pilgrims and hymns from the choir, the priest delivered the heavy basket to the pulpit as the congregation applauded him. It was truly a unique ceremony.

Pope Francis invited:

His Grace, Archbishop Paul K. Bakyenga, while summing up his homily at 11:34am, called upon the congregation to welcome the new Apostolic Nuncio (Pope's ambassador) in Uganda, Michael August Blume. He told his eminence that the mammoth congregation of pilgrims was testimony of Uganda's faith. "Your eminence you can see for yourself. This is what happens in Uganda," he said.

At this point His Grace Bakyenga asked the Apostolic Nuncio to invite Pope Francis to Uganda, drawing applause and ululations from the pilgrims.

Bakyenga hails media:

The main celebrant thanked the media for having covered the celebrations so massively. He urged them to foster good relations during their work and desist from indulging in issues that instead promote antagonism. He also urged the media to bring on board religious correspondents to provide faith based content to uplift moral values in society.

In the same breath he thanked the throngs of pilgrims who have made sacrifices to commemorate martyrs day. He marveled at how much sacrifices pilgrims make by trekking miles from far and wide to commemorate this special day. He also thanked the Government for declaring Martyrs' Day a public holiday for Christians to celebrate freely.

Several media houses, both local and international covered the celebrations. Foreign media included AFP and BBC.


Perhaps the longest part of the celebrations, the offertory lasted over an hour. Several parishes including some outside Uganda that sent pilgrims formed a procession that took offertory to the pulpit.

It was arguably the liveliest part of the mass that was punctuated by hymns, dancing, praise as different parishes, with their flags hoisted proudly. These were applauded by pilgrims in a show of Christian solidarity. The congregation was truly one celebrating the historic Martyrs' day.


The very important composition of the congregation, these came from far and wide. Last year, over 1.2m pilgrims were at Namugongo, but this time round police estimated the number at about 3 million, according to Kampala organizing committee chairman Gervase Ndyanabo. Bakyenga narrated an experience when he met visibly tired pilgrims along Entebbe road on his way to attend a meeting.

He said the pilgrims sang and chatted all the way and their solidarity seemed to make the experience more enjoyable. He also marveled at the throngs of pilgrims he saw on the way to Kampala walking nearly barefooted with torn shoes and slippers.

Among pilgrims that came from far and wide were the following: 30 pilgrims from South Africa; 15 from Swaziland, Nigeria 109, DRC 172, Kenya 585, Tanzania 833, Rwanda 83, Burundi 92, and South Sudan 38. There were others from the US, Australia and Italy.

Government dignitaries and MPs were also in attendance. They included ministers Henry Kajura, Alex Onzima, Fred Omach, Fr. Lokodo Simon; Justices Christine Kitunga and Bart Katureba among others.

There were ululations as the newly appointed Katikkiro of Buganda, Peter Mayiga, made his way to the VIP section from the western end of the shrine.

MPs in attendance included EALA Speaker Margaret Zziwa who was accompanied by her husband, Francis Babu; Rosemary Nyakikongoro, Margaret Kiboijana, Raphael Magezi, Rose from Kabong, Mathias Nsubuga, Musasizi Henry, Wamakyuyu Mudimi, Katoto, Stephen Tashobya, Byarugaba Alex, Babiri Margaret, and PAC chairman Kassiano Wadri among others.

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