Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have converged at the Catholic Martyrs shrine in Namugongo to celebrate this year’s Uganda Martyrs’ Day animated by Gulu Archdiocese.
By 6am, thousands were seen queuing from as far as Kyaliwajjala township while many others were seen trekking from different routes leading to the shrine. Most routes are being manned by a ring of joint security team.
As multitudes continue to press to enter the shrine, hundreds are wading through the large crowds to find their way out of the shrine. The situation is less similar to the one at the Anglican shrine at Nakiyanja.
According to the organisers, more than 5,000 foreign pilgrims from around the world have attended the celebrations. Some are from the USA, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, South Africa Development Community and the European Union amongst others.
At the Catholic shrine, the Eucharistic celebration is led by the Rev Dr John Baptist Odama, the archbishop of Gulu. At the Anglican shrine, the service is presided over by the Archbishop of Uganda Stanley Ntagali while the archbishop of Kenya Jackson Ole Sapit is the main preacher.
There is display of cultural diversity and heritage at the two shrines with many wearing their cultural attires and ornaments – all in unison to pay homage to the Uganda Martyrs.
The Uganda Martyrs is a group of about 45 young Christian converts killed for their faith between the 1885 and 1887 on the orders of Kabaka Daniel Basamulaekere Mwanga II of Buganda kingdom. The king took offense in the conversion of his servants by the missionaries and ordered that they be exterminated.
On the sidelines, business people at Namugongo say that the day has started on a promising note as pilgrims make early purchases for different products.
As at 10 a.m mass had started and most of the pilgrims were still held up in the queues trying to enter the church compound. Some people who have failed to get their way around the huge queues decided to use informal paths from the Kyaliwajjala junction.
Some shrewd boys have taken advantage of them and charging between Shs 500 and 1,000 for one to gain your way through. Tens of people are paying. However, those that had lost hope of entering decided to resort to quick purchases.
Due to the large numbers of pilgrims, people are paying between Shs 500 and Shs 1000 to be helped use the trenches near the Namugongo Martyrs shrine. Prayers underway and business people esp. those selling fruits are reaping big pic.twitter.com/FKZv2Cdkbw— The Observer (@observerug) June 3, 2019
Perhaps because of the walking, people selling drinks and fruits like watermelon are having the best of the day. Peterson Walugembe, a fruit seller is cutting slices of 1,000 a piece of watermelon. "It is God who changes the day but it has started well. Yesterday's was better because it was hotter," he said.
A slow start was observed among restaurant owners. Many employed waitresses to call people to their eateries but most of their tents remained empty. They are waiting for lunch hour to count their blessings. It is also not yet blissful for pork sellers.
Meanwhile, the producers of polythene bags are using public speakers outside to inform the congregation that the use of kaveera was not banned in Namugongo - contrary to the church's pronouncements that there will be no kaveera in Namugongo.
"You can still use kaveera of 30 microns and above which can be recycled," runs announcements sponsored by the producer’s association. "We employ 60,000 people," it stresses.