Thousands of Christians yesterday thronged Namugongo to celebrate the Uganda Martyrs Day, with the main celebrant, Archbishop Paul Bakyenga of Mbarara Diocese, asking pilgrims to emulate the faith of the martyrs.
Archbishop Bakyenga, whose diocese led the celebrations, urged the faithful to denounce all evils eating up society before supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which is before Parliament. “As you seek to make laws, do not pass those that will contradict the will of God,” he said.
The Bill, proposed by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, seeks to criminalise homosexuality, proposing a death sentence for homosexuals who spread HIV. Archbishop Bakyenga also thanked the government for declaring June 3 a public holiday and warned Christians against engaging in adultery, theft and murder. He saluted the security forces for what he termed “military missionary work” and also thanked the media for their role in informing society. On the recent closure of media houses, the archbishop said the church was “hurt” but added: “I am happy they were opened.”
The bishop challenged President Museveni to invite Pope Francis to visit Uganda and give Ugandans the opportunity of interacting with the head of the Catholic Church. Mass at both the Catholic and Anglican shrines began at 10am with pilgrims being subjected to thorough security checks.
Bishop John Baptist Odama, who heads all Catholic bishops in Uganda, urged Christians to commit more to their faith, a message echoed by Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. “We should thank God for the gift of martyrs because without them where would Uganda be and where would the church be? We must cherish their good example which they exhibited when they shed blood to strengthen our faith,” said archbishop Lwanga.
The Vice President, Mr Edward Ssekandi, said the government was committed to empowering all households.
He advised the leadership at Namugongo to rebrand the shrine and make it a tourist attraction site.
Namugongo can attract more tourists
The growing numbers of the annual June 3 pilgrims to Namugongo is one Christian activity that makes even the biggest non-believer to smile.
For the first time in years, the media opted to do a special; at least three national TVs broadcast the proceedings live and without cooptation of organising committees or a letter ordering so from the communications regulator UCC.
This is just a sign of what Namugongo is capable of both for spiritual and commercial purposes that both the Catholic and Anglican faiths as well as the government can take advantage of to build a global serene site for holiness and national pride. If well organised and marketed, the site could easily shoot, in the next few years to one of the most visited sites in the world.
Uniquely placed in Africa, Namugongo has potential to surpass sites in South America and the Far East. About half a million to three million pilgrims and that only focused on the more famous Catholic Shrine. Leaders of the two faiths can work together to harness religious tourism off season pilgrimages.
Additional reporting by Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi, Monitor