What you need to know:
- The pilgrim, who credits his longevity to eating particular food, has walked to Namugongo 11 times.
A man who claims to be 100 years old was among the first set of walking pilgrims to arrive at Namugongo Martyrs Catholic Shrine on Monday ahead of the June 3 celebrations.
Mr Bernaldo Tibyangye, who hails from Kigoma Village, Nyabubare Sub-county in Bushenyi District, arrived with 18 other pilgrims in good health.
Other pilgrims in the group are from Isingiro, Ntungamo and Buhweju districts.
The Catholic shrine team warmly welcomed the pilgrims before guiding them to a blue tent to rest.
Although Mr Tibyangye’s legs were slightly swollen due to the 350km journey, he says they are not so painful, and believes he will be fine.
During an interview with Daily Monitor yesterday, the retired catechist and teacher, joked about how people are dumbfounded about his age.
“I don’t know why people don’t believe me? It baffles me,” he says.
Mr Tibyangye claims to have been born in 1922, although he does not remember the exact month.
“Every time we enter into a new year, I count it an additional year. So this year, I made 100 years,” he says.
Mr Tibyangye adds that some people doubt his age because they don’t believe that an elderly man can walk for such a long distance.
“I walked from Bushenyi to Namugongo. I was one of the fittest members of the group. There were even instances where I walked ahead, leaving others behind gasping for breath,” he says.
Mr Tibyangye credits his longevity and fitness to his food choices.
He says he prefers boiled over fried food and does not drink alcohol, milk or smoke cigarettes.
“I don’t just eat anything. I mind what I either drink or eat. It is probably why I am still healthy and fit,” Mr Tibyangye says.
He has so far made the Namugongo pilgrimage 62 times, with 51 times by bus and 11 on foot. His first pilgrimage was in 1969 when Pope Paul VI visited Uganda.
The Rev Fr Vincent Lubega, the Namugongo Catholic Parish priest, confirms that Mr Tibyangye is a frequent pilgrim. “He is always here with us for the Martyrs Day celebrations,” Rev Fr Lubega says.
When Covid hit
Between 2020 and 2021 when pilgrims were not allowed to converge for celebrations at Namugongo due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the elderly man found other ways of marking the event.
Mr Tibyangye says although movements were restricted, he would converge with other community members at St Kaggwa Parish in Bushenyi.
“During these two years, we found time to meet and pray at the parish while observing the standard operating procedures, mostly wearing masks and social distancing,” he says.
As June 3 draws closer, Mr Tibyangye spends most of his time praying.
Besides shelter, the Catholic shrine team also provides security, water and sanitary facilities for pilgrims. They are, however, expected to have some money to buy food.
“I do have some little money which will take me through. There are also some good samaritans who continue to give me money,” Mr Tibyangye says.
The elderly pilgrim will return home by bus the day after the celebrations.
Mr Tibyangye says he is motivated to walk to Namugongo for several reasons.
“These journeys are a way of asking God to answer my prayers and so far, he has answered them. For example, my health is good. Imagine having been able to make it to 100 years of age, it has been the Grace of God,” the retired teacher says.
He has also been able to pray for his family, which he says is doing well. Mr Tibyange fathered 21 children [seven have since passed away].
The 100-year-old walked with his grandchildren Bridget Amuhimbise, 13, and David Rukundo, 12.
On what their experience was like while walking with their grandfather, they said he was fit and never got tired during the journey.