Thousands of enthusiastic pilgrims from across the globe have thronged Namugongo to attend the Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations in honour of the 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican martyrs killed between 1885 and 1887.
The martyrs were killed on the orders of the then Buganda king Mwanga II for converting to Christianity and allegedly rejecting his sexual advances. Security was overwhelmed by a large number of pilgrims stretching to over a kilometre attempting to gain access to both the Catholic and Anglican shrines along the Namugongo-Sonde road.
In an effort to streamline the entry process, the organizers eventually made the decision to prioritize individuals without bags. A police officer stationed near Zai Angelina Health Centre instructed those without bags to proceed and requested them to place any items they are carrying in their hands for inspection.
However, this decision led to some discontent among those with bags who felt it is unfair as they arrived earlier. One elderly woman voiced her complaint about the perceived injustice, prompting the police to momentarily halt bag checks.
Eventually, individuals with bags were allowed to place them down for inspection by police dogs. Compared to last year, when the number of pilgrims was relatively low due to the country's ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's turnout has significantly increased.
The current numbers evoke memories of pre-pandemic times if not slightly surpassing them. Local residents in the area have attested to the surge in pilgrim numbers, with reports of a large group of approximately 5,000 pilgrims arriving from Jinja alone.
Fortunately, the weather this year has been relatively cool, in contrast to the previous year when rain dampened the eve and morning of the festivities.
At the Catholic shrine, the Diocese of Jinja led the mass under the theme "Lord, increase our faith." Simultaneously, at the Anglican site, the service is led by dioceses from the eastern cluster, including Karamoja, Mbale, North Karamoja, Busoga, Sebie, and others.
This collaborative effort has resulted in a remarkable achievement, bringing together a choir of 400 individuals, the largest ever assembled at an Anglican event. The Most Rev Dr Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America and chairman of the Council of Primates within the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) delivered the sermon of the day.
During his inspection of the venue for final preparations, the archbishop expresses admiration for the efforts of the Anglican community in developing the site and ensuring it is well-prepared to accommodate all the guests. He specifically highlights the provision of ample shade to ensure everyone can sit comfortably and enjoy the proceedings.
While acknowledging the tragic deaths of the martyrs under the orders of the Kabaka, the Church of Uganda, Archbishop Steven Kaziimba emphasized that during the commemoration, the focus should not solely be on criticizing Buganda kingdom.
He highlighted the historical significance of the kingdom, noting that it was under the reign of Kabaka Muteesa I that the kingdom initiated the arrival of missionaries to these lands, which played a pivotal role in spreading the gospel and bringing enlightenment and knowledge of the Lord to the area.
Kaziimba encouraged the faithful not to overlook this important aspect of the kingdom's history and urges them to use the occasion to foster spiritual growth and deepen their faith.