Virika Cathedral of Fort Portal Catholic Diocese. PHOTO/ALEX ASHABA


Fort Portal: The diocese leading Martyrs Day fete

What you need to know:

  • The day will be celebrated under the theme “Baptised and sent to witness Christ with Love and Hope”.

On the hill of Virika Cathedral (Our lady of the Snows) lies the headquarters of Fort Portal Catholic Diocese, this year’s coordinator of the June 3 Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations.

In February this year, the Uganda Episcopal Conference picked Mbarara Ecclesiastical Province, which in turn selected Fort Portal Diocese, to lead the celebrations, and preparations are in high gear at the Catholic Shrine in Namugongo, Wakiso District.

The day is historical in the lives of believers since Fort Portal Diocese last led the celebrations 27 years ago and it will be celebrated under the theme: “Baptised and sent to witness Christ with Love and Hope”.

The director of the social communications office, Fr Aloysius Tumwekwase, said in 1997, when the diocese last animated the celebrations, it was under the stewardship of the late Bishop Paul L. Kalanda, who died aged 88 in 2015.

The diocese, located in Western Uganda, which is about 290 kilometres on the Fort Portal-Kampala highway, is being led by Rt Rev Robert K. Muhiirwa, who was ordained Bishop in 2003.

It is home to one of the 24 Uganda Martyrs; Adolf Tibeyalirwa Mukasa Ludigo, who hailed from Katoosa Parish in Kyenjojo District.

In a recent interview with Fr Joseph Musana, the director of the choir, they have so far lined up a team of 300 choir members who were picked from different churches around the diocese.

He said for the last two weeks, all the choir members have been undergoing residential training at St Mary’s Minor Seminary.

“We have already procured the uniforms for men and women, bought musical instruments and we are planning a concert for try-outs,” he said.

Being a national function, he said they have selected a number of songs to be sung in different languages.

Genesis of diocese

According to information obtained from the social communication office, Fort Portal Catholic Diocese, which is under Mbarara Ecclesiastical Province, was created by Pope John XXIII on April 19, 1961 with the appointment of Rt Rev Vincent Joseph McCauley as the first bishop.

The diocese was detached from Mbarara Diocese, which up to 1953 was Rwenzori Vicariate.
Rwenzori vicariate was carved out of the vicariate of Uganda in 1934 and became a new ecclesiastical territory covering districts in western region that included Nkole, Kigezi, Toro, and Bunyoro.

Fr Francis Xavier Lacoursiere of the White Fathers was ordained and became the first Bishop of Rwenzori Vicariate. 

The founding of Fort Portal Diocese was a fruit of the missionary work of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as the White Fathers and the Missionary activity of Fr Auguste Achte (Pere Akiti), who introduced the Catholic faith in Tooro.

When Pope Paul VI visited Uganda in 1969, he ordained, among others, Bishop Serapio B. Magambo, Auxiliary Bishop of Fort Portal in 1969. 

Bishop Magambo afterwards took Canonical possession of the diocese of Fort Portal as its Ordinary in 1972.

He was succeeded by Bishop Paul L. Kalanda by then the Bishop of Moroto.  He was appointed to the see of Fort Portal Diocese in 1991 and the same year, he was installed as Ordinary, taking Canonical possession of the diocese, until he retired in 2003.

Bishop Kalanda was succeeded by Rt Rev Muhiirwa.

In 1999, the diocese was graced with the appointment of Rt Rev Joseph Mugenyi Sabiiti as Auxiliary Bishop up to date. 

About Muhiirwa

Bishop Muhiirwa was born in 1958 at Ibonde, Virika Parish, Fort Portal Diocese. He was ordained priest on August 11, 1985 at Virika Cathedral by Bishop Magambo. He was appointed Bishop of Fort Portal Diocese in 2003. 

During the annual plenary of 2018, members of the Uganda Episcopal Conference elected him as the vice chairman of the conference deputising Rt Rev Joseph Antony Zziwa, the Bishop of Kiyinda-Mityana Diocese.
Bishop Muhiirwa is being deputised by Rt Rev Sabiiti who was was born  in Nyansozi, Fort Portal Diocese in 1948. 

The diocese has its cathedral church of Virika (Our lady of the Snows) as its headquarters, one of the most magnificent Cathedral in East Africa and it was built in1967 after the first church was hit by an earthquake in 1966.The church roof was once renovated in 1995 and 2005.

In September 2021, Bishop Muhiirwa launched a campaign for the fundraising for the renovation of the roof of the cathedral whereby the diocese seeks to raise Shs2 billion and the chief guest was the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among, but because of martyrs day celebrations in June, the fundraising was halted.

The diocese has since grown with 31 parishes divided in three deaneries that include Virika, Kamwenge and Katoosa. 

It covers the districts of Kabarole, Bundibugyo, Kamwenge, Kyenjojo, Kyegegwa, Ntoroko, Bunyangabu, Kitagwenda, and Fort Portal city.

Fort Portal Diocese has been under the Archdiocese of Mbarara since 1999.
In 1999, the Holy See elevated Mbarara to an Archdiocese and Metropolitan See of the Western Uganda Ecclesiastical Province, with Paul Bakyenga as its first Archbishop, who retired and was succeeded by Archbishop Lambert Bainomugisha.

Journey to Namugongo

The chairperson of the Pilgrims committee, Fr Titus Winyi, said they have released a road map to be followed by pilgrims from Fort Portal Diocese.

Fr Titus said the pilgrims from Kasese and Bundibugyo districts will arrive at Virika in Fort Portal on May 22 and on May 23, they will be flagged off by Bishop Muhiirwa at 3pm after Mass.

“After flagging them off,  the bishop will walk with them around Fort Portal city led by the UPDF band and we expect the Pilgrims to arrive in Busenga on June 1 as they proceed to Namugongo,”  he said. 

The pilgrims will spend 10 days walking with 10 stopover points at Kaihura Villa Maria,Rwibale Catholic Church, Kibuye Catholic Church, Mubende NTC, Kiganda Catholic Parish, Kiyinda- Mityana Cathedral Parish, Nswanjjere Seminary, Busenga Catholic Parish, and Naalya where there will be a triumphant entry to Namugongo on June 1.

Bishop Muhiirwa says the diocese projects to utilise Shs1 billion and President Museveni has announced a Shs1 billion contribution for both the celebrations and for completion of their Cathedral.

Fort Portal pastoral coordinator Fr Charles Oyo in an interview with the Daily Monitor on Monday said they had so far raised more than Shs500 million.

Summary of Bishops

1. Rt Rev Vincent Joseph McCauley (1961-1972)
2. Rt Rev Serapio B. Magambo (1972-1991)
3. Rt Rev Paul L. Kalanda (1991-2003)
4. Rt Rev Robert K Muhiirwa (2003 to date)

Auxiliary Bishop

Rt Rev Joseph Mugenyi Sabiiti from 1999 to date.

Diocesan structure and  Number
Catholics    Over 1 million
Deaneries    3
Parishes    31
Church centres    1,620
Priests including Bishops    144
Priests excluding bishops    142
Catechists    142
Religious congregations of men(Holy Cross, Camilians, Capuchins, Brothers Of St Joseph the Worker)    4
Religious congregations of women    9
Technical Institutions    7
Tertiary institutions    4
Nursing schools    1
Secondary schools    317
Primary schools    433
Orphanages    3
Hospitals    1
Health Centres    13

*Source: Social communication office of Fort Portal Catholic Diocese  


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