Experiencing Martyrs’ Day

Believers worship at Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo on Martyrs Day last year. PHOTO BY KENNEDY ODOKONYERO

It was a random thought. While doing my laundry on Sunday, May 17, 2015, the idea of taking part in last year’s Martyrs’ Day celebrations came to mind out of the blue. However, there was no way I was going to Namugongo alone. Sometimes what motivates me to accomplish my aspirations is when I share it with people around me.

I posted the idea on social media mainly to look for friends that could join me in this adventure. Unfortunately, none responded positively.

Mary is one of my staunch catholic friends. I contacted her to know if she would be going to Namugongo, and I was relieved to discover that she was planning to go with her Catholic community of Mulago Paramedical School; Queen Elizabeth Catholic Community. To make it more fun and challenging, we coined the idea of walking to Namugongo.

The pilgrimage
We set off on June 2 at 6pm from Mulago Paramedical School. But before that, we dedicated our journey to God in a short prayer. We were in a group of about 40 students.
The sweaty journey took us two hours. Of course we did not reach as a group, as Mary and I were among the last to reach.

At the entrance
There were only two entrance points that were used by the estimated three million pilgrims in Namugongo. I can only leave to your imagination the bustle, hustle and survival-for- the fittest atmosphere to access the points. After two hours of struggling in the queue, we made it in at 10pm.

Mission accomplished?
The first thing I did was to jump and punch the air in celebration and tweet because mission Namugongo was accomplished.
The sight of thousands of people; young, old, mothers was just amazing. At this point the reality of martyrdom struck me.
We joined the Luganda mass that was already going on. People were singing, dancing, jumping all in celebration of the martyrs, even though some of the pilgrims were already sleeping.
My energy was running low. I needed something to eat, lest I faint. There was a mini market within the compound of the shrine; food, clothes, statues, Christian literature were on sale. I had beans, rice and matooke.

Thank God, for, that night Mother Nature behaved very well. It would have been disastrous if it had rained. With my bag as my pillow, my body covered with all sorts of clothes (Including my Makerere undergraduate gown), I slept off at mid night.

My worst moment was in the morning. All my life, I had never seen a long queue to a toilet, over 100m. I just gave up on easing myself, but somehow I managed to survive for the rest of the day.
From where we slept, we moved and squeezed ourselves close to the altar, just behind the tent of the priest. There is not much to write about the mass. It was the normal catholic mass.
It was one of those life time experiences that you can only wish to have once. I might consider going back only when the proposed redevelopment of the shrine is completed; and perhaps when I will be in attendance as a VIP. I encourage you to experience Namugongo on Martyrs’ day.

What inspired me
Special thanks to the Lira Archdiocese for the great organisation and animation of the mass, the Police plus other security organs (they did a good job although they need to improve on crowd management especially on the walk ways) and the media houses.

The wide media coverage partially psyched me to go to Namugongo.

My lessons
I felt inspired by the stories of the martyrs. I felt more encouraged than ever before to stand and be ready to sacrifice for the things I believe in.

The faith in God demonstrated by the pilgrims from all walks of life, from every corner of the world who came together in celebration of martyrdom was admirable. My faith has never been the same since.


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