Since May 30, over 60,000 pilgrims have assembled at the sanctuary of Namugongo, so they won't miss the annual pilgrimage in honor of the Ugandan martyrs, one of the glories of a country with a Catholic majority.
The Ugandan martyrs have become the most famous group of faithful in the history of Christianity in Uganda. Forty-five young men were executed at the orders of King Mwanga II in 1880, out of hatred for the Faith. Twenty-two of them were Catholic, and they were beatified on June 6, 1920, by Pope Benedict XV; on October 18, 1964, Pope Paul VI canonized them, thus adding them to the catalogue of the saints forever.
Every June 3, Catholic faithful from all over the world traditonally participate in a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Namugongo in order to celebrate the heroic example given by the martyrs. This pilgrimage – baptized the “Walk of Faith” by the Ugandese – was presided over this year by Bishop Vincent Kirabo, of the diocese of Hoima, on a theme taken from St. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians: “Confirmed in the Faith, as also you have learned” (Col. 2:7).
On the morning of June 3, at 10 AM, there were already so many faithful that the doors of the sanctuary had to be closed, even though a multitude of faithful was still walking towards Namugongo. On the sanctuary’s esplanade, eye-witnesses report that it was hard to find a spot: people had to sleep on makeshift mats. There were many cases of pilgrims fainting because of the stifling overcrowding. Fortunately, first aid was close at hand most of the time, thanks to the Red Cross and a group of scouts patrolling throughout the crowd.
In and immediately around the sanctuary, there was an important deployment of anti-terrorist police and the army to ensure order and safety. A proof of the civil authorities’ interest in the event: the Ugandan Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, was the guest of honor at this great prayer meeting.
In his sermon, Bishop Kirabo declared that “the Ugandese martyrs were ordinary people with admirable human qualities (…), who, because of these qualities, were connected with the palace of Kabaka”. The prelate reminded the faithful that there are many testimonies that say that as catechumens, the martyrs sometimes gave up sleeping at night in order to go to the home of the missionary White Fathers to learn their catechism.
The bishop also announced that the documents for the beatification of a White Father – Fr. Simon Lourdel – and of Brother Amans, who were both at the side of the Ugandan martyrs, have been sent to the Vatican for examination.
Uganda has a population of a little over 39 million, almost 40% of whom identify as Catholics, which makes Catholicism the primary religion in the country: the young men massacred for the purity of their Faith in 1880, stand as a proof of the aphorism attributed to Tertullian: “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”