Martyrs Day: Scores turned away from Namugongo

Wednesday June 3 2020

This photo taken at Namugongo on June 3, 2020

This photo taken at Namugongo on June 3, 2020 show pilgrims being turned away by security personnel at the gate at Catholic Shrine. Following the outbreak of coronavirus, the number of people paying homage to the Uganda martyrs at Namugongo has been restricted. PHOTO BY FRANKLIN DRAKU 


Several people have been barred by security from entering Namugongo Martyrs shrine, where they had turned up to join a special mass organised to commemorate the annual Martyrs day celebration.

The annual celebration is in remembrance of 45 young christian converts who were brutally murdered between 1885-1887 on orders of Kabaka Mwanga for their allegiance to christianity. They were beatified in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV and later canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Every year, christians from across the world flock to the shrine in a journey of faith and passion to commemorate this day in honour of their religious heroes. But this year, the fete was called off as the world struggles to contain a new strain of coronavirus that spreads fast among crowds. The borders were closed and public gatherings banned in Uganda, and across the world.

As a result, the church announced that the celebration this year was cancelled. The Church also called off all masses in the shrine and sub-parish churches including all liturgical gatherings until the Covid-19 threat is cleared.

However, only 60 people, most of whom are religious leaders, were invited for a special mass. These include 40 people at the Anglican shrine and 20 at the Catholic shrine.

Several people driving private vehicles had gathered at the gate by 7am hoping to join the mass. They were seen pleading with police officers who in turn advised them to go home to their homes, saying only invited persons would be granted access. Some of the people turned away stayed insisting they wanted to talk to the rector to allow them in.


"My friend, call the rector. I want to talk to him. When he sees me, I will be allowed in," one gentleman clad in a suit driving a Prado told a police officer. However, the officer insisted that only those on the list would be allowed in. "Do you know me?" the gentleman seemingly in his early 50's questioned.

Besides, people in private cars, parishioners also started arriving in smaller groups mainly at the Catholic shrine. This prompted more deployment of security personnel at the gate who ordered everyone to vacate immediately.

Annet Namutebi, a resident of Namugongo reasoned that the area was too big and could therefore accommodate more people without compromising social distancing. Namutebi said she had come to pray for intercession through the martyrs to arrest the current situation.

“I am not on the list so I won’t flex with anyone, though I would have loved to enter and pray, but is it’s not possible I can still do it from outside here,” she said.

Mr Fred Masaba, the Officer in charge of Kira police station, who is also manning security at the Catholic shrine, insisted that he is under instructions to only let in invited guests.

“If someone comes and is not on the list, we are politely explaining to them that as security we cannot compromise the guidelines we have been given. We don't want to have any problems here," he said.
After being turned away, several people decided to stand on the perimeter wall of the shrines to say their prayers and follow the celebrations.