3 June 2018

Uganda: Understanding the Essence, Significance of June 3rd As Uganda Martyrs' Day

Photo: Alex Esagala/Daily Monitor
Pilgrims attend Mass at the Catholic Shrine in Namugongo.
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Plainly put, June 3rd is Uganda Martyrs' Day to celebrate Christians who were persecuted for their Christian beliefs on orders of Kabaka Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga Mukasa II between November 1885 and January 1887.

By definition, a martyr, according to dictionary.com, is people who willingly suffer death rather than renounce their religion.

The Uganda Martyrs fit the description because they were put to death after enduring great suffering for their faith.

To understand the significance of Martyrs Day, Monsignor Gerald Kalumba, of Christ the King Church in Kampala, says: "When Jesus Christ developed the Church, the people to follow him, after his death, he commissioned those he had taught and travelled with, to become his witnesses so, in a way, they are the first martyrs. Incidentally, many of them died, and lost their blood for Christ," Fr. Kalumba explains.

Fr. Paul Gyaviira Muwanga describes June 3rd as a fundamental day in Christianity because of the number of martyrs persecuted in Namugongo.

"We should not forget that there are other martyrs who lost their lives before and after June 3rd but we remember all of them on that day, in praying for grace so that God can have mercy unto them," Fr. Muwonge adds.

Fr. Muwonge who has devoted time to research about the Uganda Martyrs and a respected historian on matters to do with the Uganda Martyrs says that on June 3, Christians are expected to envision life as martyrs and reflect on their actions for the past and present remain a constant in faith.

Ben Tenywa, a tourist guide at Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo, and author of 'Short History of the Uganda Martyrs, explains that June 3rd signifies pilgrimage as a journey of faith.

"It is a feast day. In the Catholic Church, we celebrate feast days and commemorate them and in this case, June 3rd is the day the Uganda Martyrs were killed. We gather to celebrate the feast of the Uganda Martyrs, in their honour. That is the day majority of them were killed," he explains.

In celebrating, Fr. Kalumba adds that we make the martyrs present in our lives.

"We do not simply celebrate them as history but as real life. That is why we go and participate in the celebration and become the modern witnesses. We carry on their lives. Their lives should remain relevant in our lives. It is not an event to drink and enjoy pork and neither is it about tourism. Celebration of Uganda Martyrs in Namugongo is an event of life."

In essence, he adds that the Uganda Martyrs are also a result of the long tradition of people following Christ. Even without shading blood, the parish priest says that a true Christian is a martyr and a witness.

"Even if it is not being a witness by pouring blood, (they are) real martyrs in the sense of living a true Christian life especially in Uganda today.

He adds that people do things that are not Christian and like that, "we lose the true gist of martyrdom, the gist of being true witnesses because to be a true witness means that you suffer. I am not saying it is simple. It is by the power of God and the Holy Spirit," Mgr. Kalumba further explains.

Though the celebrations are slated for June 3rd, Tenywa observes that the day is preceded with a nine-day Novena, special prayers dedicated to the martyrs through whom believers pray for mercy and forgiveness of sins as a way of emulating their unique deeds.

"We would like to emulate them and we pray through intercession to give us courage to be like them. People walk from far to make a journey of faith as an act to sanctify themselves spiritually," Tenywa explains on.

Both Tenywa and Mgr. Kalumba agree that beyond the day, Christians should always reflect on their actions in tandem with Christianity teachings.

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