On a normal day Bugonga Catholic Church environs are filled with fishermen,traders and travellers to different islands but it becomes a holy ground every February 17.
Thousands of pilgrims from all over East Africa and farther visit Father Lourdel and Brother Aman’s arrival spot at a memorial church in Kigungu, behind Entebbe Airport. Tomorrow the Papal Nuncio, His Excellency Michael Blume will preside over the 135th anniversary of the Catholic faith in Uganda.
Although Brother Amans and Fr Simeon Lourdel aka Mapeera, were the first prominent white Catholic missionaries to arrive at Kigungu landing site on February 17, 1879, they were joined by others like Msgr Leon Livinhac, 75, and Fr Ludovic Girault , 88, who died in Algiers and Fr Leo Barbot, who died in Zanzibar at 33 years. The duo, Fr Lourdel and Brother Amans with their companions, set out for the territories of Victoria Nyanza and Tanganyika in 1877.
In Algiers, they boarded a ship that took them to Marseilles in the south of Africa from where they boarded a big ocean steamer that was destined for China. This ship took them all the way to Eden.
Fr Von John Van De Venn Sajjalyabene of Nabulagala parish, from the order of the White Fathers says, “The missionaries had to disembark and continue with a smaller ship to the island of Zanzibar where they arrived on the May 30.”
Two White Fathers, Charmetant and Deniaud, had gone before them to Zanzibar to prepare the long journey of the missionaries into the interior of the continent and on their arrival, they were happy to meet those two missionaries at Zanzibar who were working hard to get everything ready for the caravan at Bagamoyo in Tanzania.
They hired porters, bought donkeys and other items because everything had been carried on the heads of people and the back of donkeys to cross Bagamoyo from where they left for the interior on June 17. Fr Venn adds that they used diaries and travelogues written by explorers like Stanley and Speke.
Five of the 10 missionaries were destined for the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the other five for Uganda. It was an arduous trek with all kinds of hardships. He explains that they had to cross rivers and swamps, pass through deserts and forests, often fall sick, suffer severely from diarrhoea and exhaustion. “Some donkeys just didn’t want to cross the rivers and if they were forced, to do so, they would throw off their riders who would drown,” he adds.
The missionaries had to pay hongo, gifts to chiefs of different territories.
One of the fathers, Joachim Pascal, died of fever and exhaustion on August 20, and was buried in a forest.
At Tabora, the caravan split into two smaller groups with four continuing to the shores of Lake Tanganyika and five headed for Lake Victoria (Nalubaale). When the five arrived at the southern shore of the lake, they were absolutely exhausted and needed some rest.
Lourdel and Amans lead
Fr Venn recounts that Lourdel wanted to continue the journey to Uganda and after discussion, Fr Livinhac, who was the superior of the group, agreed that Lourdel and Amans go ahead of the group. They bought a boat and hired eight oarsmen and five guards. On January 20, 1879, they disembarked at Kageye and started to cross the lake keeping close to the shoreline because they had to buy some food and spend nights in tents and mend their boats daily on the mainland.
On Febuary 15, they reached Bugoma on Ssese Islands and on 17, they went ashore at Kyettale in Kigungu where a monument was erected.
Tony Muluga,the head of laity at Bugonga Catholic Church, says their boat was in a sorry state yet on February 19, they wanted to row away to Munyonyo- a little close to one of the palaces of King Mutesa. They suffered shipwreck near Kaweta landing site at Bugonga in Entebbe. They rested under a tree currently named Mapeera tree at Bugonga Church and continued on foot as their journey lasted for one week.
Muluga says they want to fence off the church land and protect it but the National Environment Management Authority is against them for encroaching on the 200-metre-lake buffer zone.