Walking up to 250 miles on foot for days, over 500,000 pilgrims in Uganda sang and prayed as they celebrated their country’s martyrs in an event supported by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The celebrations on June 3rd occurred at the national shrine in Namugongo, close to the capital Kampala, in the Diocese of Moroto. Pilgrims included participants from Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and some from as far away as Malawi and Nigeria.
“We are standing on soil that is soaked with the blood of the martyrs,” declared Bishop Henry Ssentongo of Moroto in his homily.
Between 1885 and 1887, 22 young men who served as pages at the Court of King Mwanga in Namugongo were put to death for refusing demands from their ruler that went against their faith. They were among the first Christian converts in their country.
Today over 12.6 million of the country’s 28 million inhabitants are Catholics, and every year some 400,000 more are baptized.
Each year more and more have come to take part in the great feast, and estimates for the throng have gone as high as one million. Among the pilgrims were hundreds of priests, all the bishops of Uganda and a handful of foreign bishops, along with thousands more watching on television.
The northeast of Uganda is the most underdeveloped region of the country, one that continues to be so sorely marked by violence. One of the organizers was shot dead on the eve of the departure of the pilgrims from Moroto for the festival.
Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads the Africa desk of ACN, commented on the celebrations, “I am proud that we were able to help for this!”
“At last the people of the Karamoja region have been able to show that they have something really precious to offer their country and their Church!”
Bishop Ssentongo went on to emphasize in his homily, “This pilgrimage should mark a turning point in our lives… it is not enough to celebrate the fact that Uganda is a country of martyrs; instead we must follow in their footsteps and imitate Christ right up to the end!”