First batch of pilgrims arrives for Martyrs Day

Busia District Traffic Police officer Alex Asiimwe speaks to Kenyan pilgrims after they arrived at St Jude Catholic Church in Uganda on May 21, 2024. PHOTO/DAVID AWORI 

What you need to know:

  • The pilgrims say they endured all the difficulties, including swollen legs, to be among the first pilgrims to tap into God’s blessings bestowed through the Uganda Martyrs.            

The first batch of pilgrims has started arriving at the Anglican site in Namugongo, 12 days before the Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations due on June 3.

Their arrival aligns with the preparations on the ground, which are in high gear, with several workers seen tidying up the place to ensure that it is ready to welcome all the arrivals.

The pilgrims indicated that they endured all the difficulties they encountered on the way just to be among the first pilgrims to tap into God’s blessings bestowed through the martyrs.

Ms Catherine Akuru, 60, told Daily Monitor that she came from Lira (West Lango Diocese) intending to be among the first five pilgrims.

Whereas she wanted to walk from Lira to Namugongo, she was affected by the partial closure of Karuma Bridge, which is under renovation.

“I did not walk from Lira because of Karuma Bridge. They told us they were going to break the bridge, so there was no way I was going to cross it. I boarded a taxi to Kigumba on May 20 and started walking from there up to Kampala,” she said.

Unlike her colleagues who had swollen legs and wounds, Ms Akuru said she did not encounter many challenges on the road.

She indicated that Good Samaritans bought her water, food, and fruits on the way.

This is Ms Akuru’s fifth time walking to Namugongo, asking God to enable her to get school fees for her daughter.

“I have got a child at home, no school fees. If I go back with something, well and good. Every time I come here and pray to God, he answers my prayers. The first time I was here, he gave me five acres of land,” she said.

Mr Lawrence Okello, a 39-year-old pilgrim from Apac in West Lango Diocese, said he set off alongside several pilgrims from his church on May 19 but separated from them on the way. 

Mr Okello boarded a ferry up to Masindi, where he started walking to Nakasongola.

He said he was forced to board a taxi from Nakasongola, which brought him to Kampala on Tuesday after his legs became swollen.

“I have always been among the first pilgrims to arrive, and this is my fourth time coming here. I am here to tap into God’s blessings because people in my village disrespect me, and I do not have money,” he said.

Nothing to eat

He, however, said they do not have anything to eat, explaining that he spent all the money on transport. 

Mr Okello, however, said he is assured of transport back home after the celebrations.

Mr Julius Etenu, a 23-year-old pilgrim, was the first to arrive on Monday from Amolatar District. He indicated that he started his journey on May 15 and made several stopovers in Kamudini, Kiryandongo, Masindi and Nakasongola, among other places, before he reached Kampala. With wounds on his legs, he said he had not received any first aid but was optimistic that he was going to be taken care of. Just like his colleagues, he is no sure of his next meal until June 3.

 Preparations at the Anglican Church site in Namugongo for the Martyrs’ Day celebration were yesterday in high gear. Cleaners were on the ground slashing, sweeping, and mopping the area.

Addressing journalists at the site, the chairperson of the organising committee, Rev Reuben Kisembo, said general preparations were progressing well.

Rev Kisembo said the deployment of security personnel is to start today, along with health personnel, to ensure that all pilgrims who may fall ill are treated promptly.

“All preparations to have a successful celebration are on course, and we are optimistic that all things will turn out as planned,” he said.

Funding shortfall

Meanwhile, the church still has a funding shortfall of Shs350million that is needed to ensure smooth celebrations. 

While their budget is Shs2.17 billion, President Museveni pledged Shs1.5billion, which they are yet to receive.