The mystery of godliness is one that people explore differently - often driving our beliefs on things seen as a symbols of those things that are invisible. Among such is ‘holy water’ – a controversial element in many Christian circles.
At the Uganda Martyrs Shrine for example, ‘holy water’ is drawn from the man-made lake at the shrine. In some Pentecostal churches too, such as the Synagogue Church of All Nations led by Prophet Samuel Kakande, water is a strong component of their doctrine.
“For many Catholics holy water is important, however little it might be. While entering church for example, we make the sign of the cross using holy water put at the door posts. I pray from Namugongo but every Sunday I make sure I take some water, have the priest bless it and take it home. Other times one can come with water from home and the priest sanctifies it,” Irene Ndagire, a believer says. Ndagire mixes this with her bathing water to cleanse her soul but also washes her face with it combined with a short prayer as she starts her day – to move with God’s blessings.
The fight for holy water
Previously at Namugongo, people would scramble on the shores of the pond to draw water, however, with the drive to renovate Namugongo a few years ago – popularly known as ‘Yoyoota Namugongo’ the water is now pumped to fountains from the lake and connected to taps where people can easily access it.
A visit to the shrine on a Sunday revealed how much faith Catholics have in this miraculous water. On several occasions, people are seen carrying jerrycans and bottles of this water, while others are seen drawing the water from a line of about 10 taps.
In the compound of the shrine, children pick empty mineral water and soda bottles to draw this water for their parents. When asked what this water meant to them, a young boy of about 11 explains, “This water is blessed. You can take it home and after praying for it, you can use it and get healed,” he says.
The water at Namugongo is creamy with a few particles of algae only noticed by taking a close look. On one Sunday afternoon, as it lightly drizzles, the water is warm. As the line of taps gets busier with people drawing water, two particular women are seen carrying green polyethylene bags full of small plastic bottles and the other, a couple of three litre and five litre jerrycans which they fill, one by one. Drawing closer, I start a conversation with them, and as they fill their bottles and jerrycans the conversation shifts to where they are taking this much holy water.
One of the ladies, (names withheld) explains that this was part of how she makes her living. “I sell rosaries and other religious ornaments around Namugongo. In addition, I have people who trust me to get them this holy water at a fee of Shs1,000 per bottle because they sometimes cannot come themselves to draw the water,” she says adding that she however does not see this as a business but as a way of rendering help to people who may not be able to fetch the water every time from Namugongo by themselves. “There are for example elderly people or sick people who cannot collect the water themselves, by bringing it closer to them, I am helping them in a way, and benefiting in return.
Using sacred liquid
Robinah Nanteza, a believer from Synagogue Church of All Nations, shares that holy water can be used by someone when they are sick or need blessing. “You can use it for sick people, sprinkle it at your place of work to bless your business, or use it to chase away evil spirits. Every time I’m going to church, I take a jerry can so that I draw some water,” she says. “To me, it is a symbol of faith that the invisible God is able to use things we can see to show us how great and miraculous He is. I have used this water when my child was sick ,and she got healed, so it is about how much you believe,” Nanteza says.
Pastor John Setimba of Glory Pentecostal church Mbuya says that Pentecostals do not believe in the concept of holy water. “Though God can use it to do a miracle because He is the almighty, it is not something we believe in doing or setting apart as special in the church. That would equate to worshiping idols not God who is the healer or the giver of blessings,” Setimba says.
Rev Fr Dr Ambrose Bwangatto, dean of students St Mbaaga Major Seminary Ggaba, explains that to the Catholic church, water is considered sacramental – an object set apart/ blessed to signify a result of spiritual nature. “This means it has to be blessed by a recognised or ordained minister in the church such as a priest or deacon to set it apart as sacred used to obtain spiritual effects through intercession of the church,” he says.
He further notes that water is a reminder of a believer’s baptism and grounds them in faith and it is therefore, a holy sign. “It is a sacred sign with deep roots in the bible. In Exodus 14, when the Israelites where crossing the Red sea, God gives water a symbol – that He washed the filth of the Israelites they had acquired in Egypt, therefore, water is a sign of cleansing,” Fr Bwangatto says.
Biblical point of view
Further still in Numbers 20 when the children of Israel did not have water, Moses hit a rock and water gushed out to refresh the people and their animals. “Water therefore is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But also in Joshua 3:1-4, they crossed the Jordan to the Holy land and this is considered as an element of cleansing. In the church, we use water to bless and therefore, believers use water to bless their homes, places of work, to bless their families, the sick among other things,” he notes.
Away from Catholicism, Fr Bwangatto adds that water is a very important element in Christianity and other religions; such as Judaism, Islam – for ablution.