Pilgrims experiences, lessons from Namugongo

Faith.  Buhweju County MP Francis Mwijukye with pilgrims from Buhweju on their way  to celebrate the Uganda Martyrs’ Day in Namugongo last week.  Photo / Michael Kakumirizi.

What you need to know:

  • Zeal and devotion. With devotion in supplication, the pilgrims walk the miles  from their respective homes to celebrate the Uganda Martyrs every year. Some have made their pilgrimage more than 10 times others have just aspired to start on this act  of  faith. Different pilgrims share their experiences and lessons from this walk of faith, writes Alex Ashaba.

Every  year, except the time the pandemic hit hard and there were no Uganda Martyrs celebration, many believers feel the need to make the pilgrimage. Each of the pilgrims has reasons they do the walk of faith and they do it to the end.

My first time to make a pilgrimage to Namugongo was 2022 when Fort Portal Diocese animated the Martyrs Day celebrations. Walking is not a mean feat unless you first prepare. In my case, (Catholic Church) we had to first say  the Uganda Martyrs novena(Intercession that lasts  nine days) to invoke spiritual blessings.

Fast forward, this year’s trek to Namugongo was different from last year’s because we had to walk during day in the scorching sun. We got tired so fast.

The 300 plus kilometre-journey was too long to be covered in nine days but because of spiritual blessings, I managed to make it to Namugongo.

For the two years I have walked, almost all my 10 prayer requests have been answered. Also, when you walk you get enough time to talk to God and pray to the Uganda Martyrs to intercede for you.

It is against this background that we asked different pilgrims why they walked to Namugongo.

Jidiere Kahindo from Bulema Parish, Butembo Diocese in DR Congo.

We started our journey on May 6, and this is my maiden walk to Namugongo. I chose to walk because I want to pray to God to have mercy on our diocese. Some of our leaders are no longer trustworthy and transparent which could lead to the collapse of our church.

We also ask the Uganda Martyrs to pray for our country DR Congo to be at peace and we believe nothing is impossible before God.

We thank God for the far we have come and ask him to continue being on our side since we still have a long journey back to our country after Martyrs Day celebrations.

We also ask the Almighty to protect our relatives who could not make it to Namugongo this year and that those whom we have left home to pray for us in this pilgrimage.

We came with our parish priest, the Rev Fr Abbey Kasereka whom we thank for being our spiritual and social parent. During our journey to Namugongo I got to learn that Ugandans have faith because majority of the Christians walk and they say that during the pilgrimage one gets many blessings unlike those who go by public means.

Kambari Kagesa from Butembo Beni Diocese, DR Congo

In our country because of instability, some of our peers have been murdered, raped and others abducted. This prolonged insurgency in our country, we are desperate and hopeless. It sometimes feels like we live on a different planet.

This is my third time in Kampala. However, for the last two pilgrimages I came by bus. This time, I walked from DR Congo to Namugongo purposely to pray for my country and I believe our country will be redeemed through the intercession of our Mother Mary and through mercy of the holy rosary.

I have learnt that when you are walking you take your time to pray to God because you spend many days on the road. Despite the fact that it is tiresome, this activity grounds you in your faith.

 Peter Isingoma from Kasese Diocese

This is my ninth pilgrimage to  Namugongo and people should know that without faith, no one can make it to eternal life. We should emulate the young men (Uganda Martyrs) who because of their strong faith became martyrs. It should be every Ugandan’s role to always adore, remember and celebrate the Martyrs’ Day since through them, we were blessed.

We started walking on May 18, moved day and night so as to arrive in time. We neither had enough rest nor food but God being on our side, we made it.  From these pilgrimages, I have got many spiritual benefits and my life has changed. I have learnt that if  you do not have faith, you cannot walk to Namugongo. It is only for those who are prepared.

Rev  Fr Jean-Marie Vianney Tasigana, Marepe Parish  DR Congo

The Uganda Martyrs showed their total commitment to God and defied the king’s instructions. We consider this journey as a blessing because we are free to have ample time to speak to God as well as asking the Uganda Martyrs to intercede for us and the whole of DR Congo.

Some of my parishoners and I boarded vehicles from DR Congo to Kasese because of the insecurity in our country. We started our pilgrimage in Kasese.  As Christ said, carry your cross and follow me, abandon your family and follow me; that is what we are exactly doing and we are doing so as a way of imitating the martyrs with hope and belief that our prayers would be answered.

This pilgrimage requires total devotion to Christ in order to overcome the possible challenges along the way and expect answers to your prayer requests. So, people should not treat  it as fun.

Rose Zahura, 81,  Fort Portal Diocese.

I started walking to Namugongo in 2006. This is my 15th time.  What inspired me to walk all these years is to spread the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ and also to pray for my health. I have been battling with cancer for the last 30 years. From the day I started walking, pain has reduced but I cannot say I am healed. Also, I can do domestic housework.

I never had money for treatment and I opted to pray for healing. I started saying the rosary, and one day at church I heard people announcing that there was going to be a pilgrimage to Namugongo. I joined them.

My first experience, I was scared thinking my health condition would worsen, but it did not. Along the way, people kept asking why at my age I was walking but I brushed them off as a joke.

Seven years later, I told them about my sickness.

I have had different experiences, but I will never forget when people aboard a taxi saw me and they alighted to walk with us.

Getrida Kansiime, Virika Parish, Fort Portal Diocese

I started going for the pilgrimage in 2015 after a journey to Katoosa.

I saw other people walk to Namugongo but could not even imagine it. Later, I had a vision of Saint Adolf (Ludigo) several times encouraging me to do pilgrimage at least once. Then, one of my friends told me that benefits of a pilgrimage include receiving blessings and having all prayer requests granted.

Ever since I started making the pilgrimage, I have been blessed and my garden gives good yields.

I have also learnt that all people who walk to Namugongo return with testimonies.  So, I want to tell my fellow believers that once one becomes, especially a foot pilgrim, your life cannot remain the same. As a child of God, once you start this journey, you will always have a free life and even if one offends you, it becomes easy to forgive.

Let us all be like the Martyrs who stood firm in faith as well as emulate the life of Christ who sacrificed his life for our sins.

Joseph Buyinza  from Town Church Fort Portal Diocese.

Last year on Easter, I converted from Islam to Catholicism. This is my second time to walk to Namugongo and I am grateful to God and the Catholic Church that honours the martyrs. Foot pilgrims receive blessings from the Uganda Martyrs because they died for us to be blessed and they continue empowering us once we celebrate, honour and commemorate the day they were killed.

I believe the Catholic Church remains powerful because they do not take the Martyrs Day for granted.

Whenever you go to Namugongo, all the doors to your blessings are flung open. The day I started this pilgrimage, I got a chance to meet President Yoweri Museveni for my first time last year.

Before making my pilgrimage to Namugongo, I had a small piece of land, but I now own acres of land where I grow crops to feed my family and others. All demonic attacks that used to disturb my family are now history.

It is because of God’s favour and, I am sure that through the intercession of the Uganda martyrs, my requests will be granted.

Once you do the pilgrimage with a clean heart, you will be relieved of your burdens and no evil can come your way.

Judith Ahisibwe, Rwera Parish Ntungamo District

We started walking on  May 18, and we reached  Namugongo on May 30.

It was my first time to walk and we were walking during night and resting during  the day.

On the  first day,  my legs trembled for half the time and almost gave way.  Then,  I suffered muscle aches. After three days, I got used to  it and I  was in sync with the rest.

Walking as a group is not tiresome because you do most of the spiritual activities collectively. We recited the rosary and sang the songs of praise to God and it was not before long, we had covered the journey.

Walking also not about physical energy but spiritual energy. Of course, one needs to drink  more water because the body keeps dehydrating.

Through making pilgrimages  I learnt that one cannot fail to get what they pray for  because  most people were sharing testimonies before reaching Namugongo.

I have also learnt that pilgrims are good Samaritans because when  you do not have money people can support and buy you what to eat .

Did you know?

The Fort Portal Diocese chaplain for Uganda Martyrs Guild, the Rev Fr Moses Mutangirizi, says the benefits of walking are more personal and spiritual than public benefits.

He says theologically, prayers goes with fasting and acts of mercy, emphasising that if one wants his prayers to be effective, one is supposed not to pray only but to also fast.

«Fasting is not only about food and drinks alone, but you can subject your body to something harder. Thus, each pilgrim has his intention; they most likely prayed but failed to find answers and took on the trek,» Fr Mutangirizi explains.