Uganda is not only known about wildlife tourism but also has religious events that bring together people from the whole world. The pilgrimage to the Uganda martyrs shrine in Namugongo is one such events that have made Uganda known to the whole world. Every year of 3rd June, all businesses in Namugongo are put on as Christians from all parts of the world gather for the annual prayer session. The celebrations are dedicated to honoring the Catholic and Anglican converts who were executed for their faith between 1885 and 1887 at the orders of Kabaka Mwanga for their faith.
Their killing by Kabaka Mwanga II, the king of Buganda was during the three-way religious struggle for political influence at the Buganda Royal Court. These Martyrs basically belonged to two religious groups that included 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics that had converted to Christianity after abandoning the traditional beliefs. Following their killing, the English Church Missionary Society used the deaths of Anglicans to enlist wider public support for the British acquisition of Uganda for the Empire. The Catholic Church also beatified the 22 catholic martyrs of its faith in 1920 and canonized them later in 1964.
This great religious event has attracted many people worldwide with pilgrims coming in from almost all countries around the world. The day receives a big gathering in Uganda as people flock to Namugongo, a place about 15km from the city center along Kampala- Jinja highway. The start of the pilgrimage to Namugongo has its history way back in 1920 when Rev. Fr. Stephen Walters, a Mill Hill Missionary Priest organized a pilgrimage to Namugongo to honor the newly blessed martyrs that had been beatified. After this a Dutch priest who was the based at Nsambya walked with a group of Christians to Namugongo and celebrated holy mass at the spot where Charles Lwanga was martyred. He erected a cross at this spot after the mass, which marked the beginning of pilgrimage to Namugongo.
Martyr’s day is full of prayers, confessions, testimonies, deliverance as well as entertainment. Different choirs have trained to sing and dance for the guests, this keeps people happy and lively throughout.
Today the pilgrimage to Namugongo means much more to the locals than just remembering the martyrs. The event has moved from an emotional faith (religious ceremony) to also commercial, social and entertainment aspects. Business oriented Ugandans have used the event as an avenue to make money and they sell all sorts of products to the pilgrims. The list of the sold items is dominated by beverages, other soft drinks and eats. Entertainers who are also in most cases marketing various products and services also arrange different stands with musical instruments airing out some of the popular local music to accompany the adverts. Namugongo also became a famous spot for pork lovers, as the delicacy is the main type of meat all over the area. In other wards, martyrs day is a source of income for local people. It’s the major source of market for local products such as soap, sugar, food, drinks, snacks and other necessities. Businesses people are assured of ready market at quite higher prices.
People are assured of peace and order during this event. The Uganda people’s defense force (UPDF) and the Uganda police have deployed army men and police to ensure safety of people and their properties. Therefore, come be part of the Uganda martyrs day, pray, confess, testify, get delivered and celebrate the lives of Christian converts who sacrificed to die for the word of God to spread and reach many people in all parts of the world. It is really a day to celebrate in Uganda on every 3rd June.