Augustine Ruzindana

Why is it that only ordinary people walk to Namugongo?

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By Augustine Ruzindana

Posted  Friday, June 6  2014 at  01:00

This week, there was Martyrs Day on June 3 and the pilgrimage to Namugongo is becoming an annual wonder almost similar to the annual wildebeest and zebra migration from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya and back.

There is a similar migration of antelopes and gazelles, probably bigger in size but less well known, in the 22,800 Sq. Km. Boma National Park in Jonglei state of South Sudan. There are many other creature migrations of whales, turtles, dragonflies, birds, bats, butterflies, caribou in North America, salmon, etc. These migrations are among nature’s grandest spectacles.

Pilgrimage has a long history and most faiths of the world have places of pilgrimage, which are usually places of importance to a person’s faith. The pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The Arba’een marks the 40th day of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Shia Muslims 3rd Imam, at Karbala in Iraq and attracts millions of Shia Muslims every year to visit the Imam’s Shrine and mourn his death. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is the most sacred and most visited site for Jews.

There are many Hindu pilgrimage sites associated with events in the lives of various gods, but the Kumbh Mela, which rotates between Allahabad, India, and three other cities is the largest gathering of humans in the entire world. The Buddhists make pilgrimage to Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, where he delivered his first teaching, where he died and many other holy places.

There are a number of Baha’i pilgrimage places, three of the mandatory ones are located in Shiraz, Iran, Baghdad, Iraq and the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Acre and Bahji in Israel.

Christian pilgrimages are made to the sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Holy Land. Pilgrimages are also made to Rome and other sites associated with the apostles, saints and Christian martyrs and to places where there have been apparitions of the Virgin Mary such as Lourdes in France, Fatima, Portugal, Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc.

I have visited the Holy Land and witnessed the devotion of visitors at various pilgrim sites, including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Calvary, Garden of Gethsemane, Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which includes the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall (actually people wail at the wall).

I have visited Rome and San Thome Basilica in Chennai, India where St Thomas, the Apostle, is believed to have been martyred in the 1st century AD. I have of course been to Namugongo, most memorably when His Holiness John Paul 11 visited Namugongo Shrine on March 7, 1993 and elevated it to the rank of a Minor Basilica (a rank only conferred by the Pope to an important church of spiritual or historical importance).

I have, therefore, witnessed firsthand the exhibition of faith and devotion in these pilgrimage places. The hundreds of thousands taking long walks from as far as Malawi to Namugongo are continuing a long established tradition of making a journey of spiritual significance that may lead to strengthening of one’s faith or with the expectation of having some questions or prayers answered.

Simply put, pilgrimage is an act of faith.
Sometime back when I was in Nairobi, I took a taxi and when I told the driver that I was from Uganda, he was excited because he walks every year to Namugongo from Nairobi. I know some pilgrims from Ruhaama, who have walked for 10 days to Namugongo for the last several years. However, the puzzling question is that you hardly find religious leaders or senior secular leaders among the walkers.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP.