This Sunday, as Ugandans go to remember, pray and celebrate the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it will be 135 years since the Christian natives celebrated the first East here.
The first Christian missionaries to arrive here were two British ex-service men, Lieutenant Shergold Smith and Rev C.T Wilson in June 1877. They were sent by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) of England.
Two years later, they were followed by two White Fathers: Fr Lourdel and Brother Frera Amans from France who docked at Bugonga Landing Site, now located behind the Entebbe airport, on February 17, 1879, to preach the message of, or from God, and convert all from the traditional religions or Satanism to Christianity.
A month after the two catholic clerics’ arrival, they erected a tent at Nabulagala, near Kasubi, which became the first Catholic church in Uganda and the base to blow the trumpet of the gospel from God.
Soon, it was Easter time. But owing to the hardships faced -- social, political and economic -- the two celebrated the first recorded Easter alone in the country since they had not yet converted any believers, although they had recruited nearly half a dozen of followers.
From the book ‘The Beginning of the White Fathers Mission in Southern Uganda and the Organisation of the Catechumenate From 1879-1914’, the first Easter, in which natives participated and celebrated, was commemorated on Sunday March 28, 1880. This was after the first four Catholic converts, who a day before had been baptised by Fr Lourdel aka Mapeera, received the holy sacrament of confirmation from Fr Livinhac who conducted the holly mass.
The book quotes many records from Fr Lourdel’s memoirs, which reveal that the preaching of the day, centred on the fight against traditional worship in the country, although there were not more than five natives in the church. Because the message delivered was against adherence to traditional worship, the mass was conducted at night to avoid detection and persecution by King Mukaabya a.k.a Muteesa I of Buganda and his henchmen.
The suspicion and animosity against the White Fathers and CMS clergies from the king and his other men had started to manifest, for they were preaching against worshipping Bemba, the traditional god who for so many years natives had known and worshipped as the sole and mighty supernatural creature.
It’s recorded that during that mass and others that followed, Fr Lourdel cursed Bemba in a broad day light and taught the converts to never fear, or believe in Bemba, but believe only in the almighty God in Heaven. Thus, it can be said the battle for the souls between God and traditional worship in Uganda was thus defined on the first ever Easter in the country.
The climax of the war between God and traditional worship was defined by the execution of the famous Uganda Martyrs who preferred to die than worship the gods.
So, did the early missionaries in Uganda lose the battle or did the Uganda Martyrs die in vain? Because 134 years later, the culture of traditional worship still leaves on and many souls are evading God and the church, especially the male youth, the elite, the rich as well as business people. Hardly a week ends without the press publishing a story about ritual practices. Worth to note is that some pastors purportedly use evil power to heal the sick that flock their churches.
On December 7, 2004, The New Vision published a story and pictures of former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya visiting a traditional shrine (Sabo) in Masaka District. He was touring rice farming in the area.
Prof Bukenya was ushered in by pipe-smoking diviners who asked him to remove his shoes as his escorts stayed outside the Sabo belonging to Hajji Bruhan Katale, the chairman Utoda Put Safe Masaka.
While inside, Prof Bukenya knelt near the hearth, raised his arms and prayed. He was given some coffee beans to eat and also put some in the basket to appease the ancestors and gods before the diviner gave him some other items and blessed him.
Later the diviner also gave Bukenya some items to throw in fire amidst them and uttered some words as he asked the ancestors to bless President Museveni, the Movement and make the third time bid for the President in 2006 smooth.
West Buganda Bishop Keefa Kamya Ssemakula, who had accompanied Bukenya during his tour, refused to enter the Sabo although other people entered.
The bishop was quoted by the paper as saying: “That is satanic. Hajji Katale has done wrong to involve our guest in such issues when on national duty.”
Masaka LC5 then Vincent Ssempijja also refused to enter the shrine.
Recalling from the preaching of the first Easter in Uganda, it is unbelievable that 134 years later, the clerics and Christians are yet to defeat traditional worship here and elsewhere.