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Uganda Martyrs Day: Thousands throng the Namugongo Shrine

On 3 June 2024, thousands of pilgrims from across the globe thronged the Namugongo Catholic Martyrs Shrine in Kampala, Uganda, to attend the Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations in honour of the Holy Martyrs killed between 1885 and 1887 on account of their faith.

Fr Isaac Ojok- Kampala City.

This year’s pilgrims for Martyrs Day were drawn from all the 19 Catholic dioceses of Uganda, spread in the four Ecclesiastical Provinces of Gulu, Tororo, Mbarara, and Kampala Archdioceses, respectively. Some pilgrims trekked long distances and for weeks to reached the Shrine.

From the African continent, pilgrims came from countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, South Sudan and South Africa. Additionally, other pilgrims arrived in Uganda from countries in Europe and the Americas.

Annually, 3 June in Uganda is marked as a public holiday and the day is liturgically celebrated as a Solemnity to honour the 22 Catholic martyrs. This year’s celebrations were favoured by relatively cool weather. Security was very tight and it was enforced by the police and Ugandan military.

A new way of being Christian

Nebbi Catholic Diocese in Northwestern Uganda animated the national liturgy for 2024 under the theme “But as for me and My Household, We Shall Serve the Lord,” as taken from Joshua 24:15.

Archbishop Raphael p’Mony Wokorach MCCJ, the Archbishop of Gulu Archdiocese, presided over the Eucharistic celebration, which was concelebrated by many Bishops and priests.

At the start of his homily, Archbishop Wokorach thanked the Uganda Episcopal Conference for granting Nebbi Catholic Diocese the opportunity to lead this year’s Martyrs Day.

He said the celebration of Martyrs Day is very meaningful to Christians in Uganda and the church at large. Celebrating the day is an acknowledgement and expression of God’s goodness to the Church and to Ugandans. It is an act that refreshes our way of being Christians both in Uganda and elsewhere.

Several Bishops concelebrated the Holy Mass

Several Bishops concelebrated the Holy Mass

Experiencing a new Pentecost

The prelate alluded to that celebration of the Uganda Martyrs Day every year, as an experience of a new Pentecost, a point where people from all corners of the world gather together in prayers as one family of God -united in faith.

He went on to invite pilgrims to emulate the legacy of the Ugandan Martyrs who lived and exhibited a strong faith regardless of danger to their own lives. The martyrs took the Word of God seriously, and it shaped and marked their lives.

The scourge of corruption

Following the example of the Uganda Martyrs, who stood firm on solid principles of their faith, Bishop Wokorach also took time to encourage the country’s leaders, policymakers, and all those in authority to learn from the courage of the martyrs and tackle the scourge of corruption in Uganda. Corruption, the Bishop said, had now penetrated most sectors of Ugandan society.

At the climax of his sermon, Archbishop Wokorach encouraged Christians to embrace the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony as one way to strengthen families and nations. For their model, families have the Holy Family of Nazareth, as an example worth emulating, the Gulu Archdiocese prelate pointed out.

He concluded by invoking God’s grace upon all pilgrims and praying that the Lord would look kindly on all their intercessions.

60th anniversary of Canonisation

Nebbi Catholic Diocese last animated Martyrs Day, at Namugongo, in 2007.

This year, the Catholic Church in Uganda commemorates the 60th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1964 canonisation of the Ugandan Martyrs. It also commemorates 145 years of the Catholic faith in Uganda brought by the Missionaries of Africa, commonly known as the White Fathers.

Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was the guest of honour at this year’s Martyrs Day celebrations. Other dignitaries who graced the occasion were Ugandan legislators, cultural leaders, and heads of different political parties.

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