The Catholic Archbishop of Kampala, Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, used the yesterday’s Martyrs day celebrations to ask each Catholic to contribute at least Shs 1,000 per month to help expand the Uganda Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo.
Speaking during Mass, the archbishop said contributions would be made through mobile money with the help of telecom service provider MTN Uganda. The church also welcomed individual pledges to help turnaround the Shrine in Namugongo built in 1920. Archbishop Lwanga said the martyrs had become an international symbol, drawing attention and tourists from all over the world.
Over one million pilgrims, he said, attended this year’s celebration, the biggest number ever. If at least one million people heed to the call, the church will be able to raise Shs 1 billion every month and Shs 12 billion by the end of the year.
“In July, I will launch a campaign to contribute Shs 1,000 every month for one year and if each one contributed, we will do wonders to this place and have better facilities for pilgrims,” Lwanga said at the celebrations that also marked the Golden Jubilee of the canonization of the martyrs by Pope Paul VI during his visit to Uganda.
He said the current facilities at the shrine cannot accommodate the millions of pilgrims who flock Namugongo every year. While thousands get the chance to walk into the gates and attend Mass around the manmade lake, thousands more are left stranded outside. This year’s event was attended by President Yoweri Museveni, Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, UPC president Olara Otuunu, Conservative Party President John Ken Lukyamuzi and the widow of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.
Some 100 Nigerians were part of the congregation. From Tanzania, 10 dioceses were represented by 861 pilgrims who walked to Namugongo. Nine dioceses came from Kenya with 938 people on foot. For Rwanda, some 293 pilgrims walked the journey and some 364 pilgrims came from DR Congo. There were another 44 pilgrims from America, 141 from Malawi, four from Liberia, four from Sierra Leone, two from Brazil, one from Austria, three from UK, and one from Poland.
This is just the number of pilgrims who managed to register at the pilgrims’ desk. Many more did not get the chance to enter the shrine. Lwanga said the shrine started with five pilgrims, when Father Walters bought eight acres of land at Shs 200 each and built a church. This was in 1920 when Namugongo was still a place of terror and murder. Over the years, with the leadership of Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga, the shrine was built.
President Milton Obote helped to construct and expand the manmade lake while President Museveni donated Shs 200 million to fence the shrine. Mbabazi also marshalled volunteers, including banks, who pledged Shs 500 million for the much-needed development of the shrine. Yesterday, Museveni made the first monetary pledge to build, expand and modernise the shrine, not only as a symbol of faith in Uganda but also as a tool of national importance which brings unity among people of different nations as well as tourists.
“Africa will be stronger when it is together. We were colonised because we were divided and in order to develop, we must unite. I feel very happy to see unity in religious movements. We are going to do more for Namugongo,” the president said.
This year, Kotido Catholic diocese led the celebrations under the stewardship of Father Simon Lokodo. The church choir was unmatched, signing beautiful hymns in languages that cut across Uganda. Even Museveni was left speechless as the worshipers cheered on the talented men and women of Karamoja.
The diocese of Kotido was created on May 20, 1991, carved out of Moroto diocese, which formerly covered the whole of Karamoja region. It now comprises the districts of Kotido, Kaabong and Abim.
Their first resident bishop was Rev Denis Lote Kiwanuka, who was replaced by Rev Bernard Charles Phelan in 2007. In August 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Fr Giuseppe Filippi of Comboni missionaries as the new bishop of Kotido. Kotido diocese has a total of 512,000 people, 174,300 of whom are Catholic. It has one kindergarten, 89 primary schools, three secondary schools, three dispensaries and leprosaria.
“The fire that burned their bodies at Namugongo and which was meant to extinguish their faith, instead made it shine brighter than that of the stars. Their remarkable story and example of faithfulness to God and to their king has become a permanent bright light,” said Bishop Giuseppe Filippi.
Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, the Archbishop Emeritus of Kampala said walking to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine every year was an act of professing faith and worship of God.
“We come to Namugongo to honour God’s servants who proved to God their love for him by courageously bearing witness to him to the point of giving their lives” Wamala said
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