Namugongo pilgrimage: The martyrs’ sacrifice embraced by many

By Muduku Derrick Brian 

After nearly two years because of the grave effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Christian faithful the world over are trekking from far and wide to the Namugongo Martyrs’ shrine to mark the annual Uganda Martyr’s Day celebrations. The New Vision recently updated a post on their Facebook page of 72-year-old Hagata Nyinabutagwra arriving at the shrine from Fort Portal City. 

What conviction would make a 72-year-old woman walk such a long distance? This year’s pilgrimages of the various groups even had unfortunate and extreme occurrences. 

Jackline Alinaitwe, 49, of Rubirizi district, was making her second pilgrimage to the shrine.However, she could make it this time. She died. What is special about these pilgrimages? 

A pilgrimage is a sacred journey undertaken for a spiritual purpose. Pilgrims are different from tourists; they travel for spiritual reasons and not just to relax or have fun. A pilgrimage is a search for meaning, purpose, values, or truth. 

In the context of the pilgrimage to the Uganda Martyrs shrine in Namugongo, 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic martyrs were executed between January 31, 1885 and January 27, 1887 on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II. The Martyrs were killed primarily because they refused to denounce Christianity as their religion. 

The Rev. Can. Diana Mirembe Nkesiga, the Vicar of All Saints Cathedral, says that the purpose of people making pilgrimages to the Uganda Martyrs’ shrine is to understand the sacrifice that the martyrs made.

“Walking to the shrine is a way of self denial in order to listen to God.” It is a way of following in the pain of the martyrs and testing our faith. “It is a journey made in prayer,” she said. 

Nkesiga adds that through the pilgrimages, people remember the martyrs who sacrificed their lives and planted strong seeds of faith in Uganda.

“What is interesting is that these were young men, but they did not deny Christ.” She said that each of us needs to challenge ourselves and learn from these young men and have a deep commitment to our faith. 

She says that the pilgrims promote unity among the Christian faithful as people from parts of the world meet and commemorate the sacrifice of the martyrs that were killed in Uganda. 

This year’s theme at the martyrs’ day celebrations is ‘Hope Beyond Affliction’. The Rev. Can. Eng. Paul Wasswa says that the theme of this year is to give hope to Christians after the COVID-19 struggles.

“The last two years have been full of affliction through suffering, sickness, unemployment, family strains, and the like. The theme is to show us that, in spite of all these challenges, there is hope for the future, “he said.

Wasswa urges students at UCU to learn from the young Uganda martyrs who had a strong faith that made them sacrifice their lives for the sake of Christ. 

“Faith is not convenient. It is not a garment you wear, go for a freshers’ ball and remove it. “Faith is worth dying for,” he said. 

He adds that every Christian should have a deep evaluation and introspection of their faith in Christ. 

Abaho Kenneth, a first year student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management, says that this year, he is praying for the spirit of sacrifice just like the martyrs so that he can be able to succeed in his studies. 

“I want to do whatever it takes to perform well in my studies and come out of this course with a great performance. “I may not be able to go there physically, but I shall follow all the proceedings on television,” he said. 

The 2022 Martyrs’ Day celebrations at Namugongo Shrine have attracted thousands of people from all over the world to commemorate the Uganda Martyrs. The Greater Ankole Diocese has spearheaded this year’s celebrations. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is expected to be the chief guest at the celebrations slated for Friday, June 3, 2022.