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Nebbi Diocese pilgrims manifest faith, hope

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Nebbi pilgrims Mr David Thumirwoth, 45  (centre) and Ms Kachila Acibu, 82 (right) set off from Bombo District to Namugongo May 27, 2024. PHOTO/DAN WANDERA

The more than 400km journey is almost done; we will soon be in Namugongo,” a mixture of voices from the more than 500 foot pilgrims from Nebbi Diocese echoed from different corners as they set off from Bombo Town in Luweero District May 27.

The voices are from the elderly, middle-aged, and youth as they assemble for the morning prayer and flag off to Matugga Town in Wakiso District. 

The pilgrims’ revelation is that of hope and great faith. The 450km journey that kicked off on May 15, is left with less than 50kms to Namugongo. “We can make this journey in only two days,” 66-year-old Micheal Ojok tells this publication as he rests under a tree shed at St Don Bosco Namaliga parish in Bombo, Kasana Luweero Diocese on May 26.

Mr Michael Ojok, 66.

“I believe that we are already in Namugongo since we are only left with less than 50kms. This distance can be covered in a single day with determination. I have remained fit and able to pray when we get to the different resting areas,” he says.

Mr Ojok is no stranger to the Namugongo Martyrs Shrines, making his pilgrimage for the fourth time. Each journey from Pakwach District in West Nile, he says, brings him countless blessings and a renewed sense of faith. 

Pilgrims from Nakivale Parish in Isingiro District rest at the Catholic Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo on May 27, 2024. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

Ms Kachila Acibu, 82, is embarking on her pilgrimage for the second time. As a mother of nine, Acibu shares that her family has faced many challenges, including the loss of seven children.

Ms Kachila Acibu, 82

“Prayer has kept my surviving family members in good health after the devil robbed me of my seven children. I have kept my faith in God by making the annual Martyrs foot pilgrimage to Namugongo although some of my relatives got worried and tried to convince me to drop the idea,” she says.

The resident of Panyalenga Village in Pakwachi District, says her body has been re-energised after resting and she has hope of  completing the distance.

“I can even jump and sing to my lord as I walk to Namugongo Martyrs shrines. We are nearing Namugongo. Some of my prayers are already answered,” she says.

Mr David Thumirwoth, 45, who relies on a wheelchair for mobility, believes the devil attempted to end his pilgrimage prematurely when his tricycle wheelchair broke down halfway through his journey in Kiryandongo District.

“But God made the plans for the repairs before the team could move from Kiryandongo to Nakasongola on May 23. I now see myself in Namugongo in a few days,” he told this publication while resting in Bombo Town.

The resident of Kakawoib Village in Pakwach Town Council, Pakwach District, finds hope amid his family’s many challenges through prayer and sacrifice as he undertakes the pilgrimage.

Of the 574 pilgrims that camped at St Don Bosco Namaliga Parish in Kasana Luweero Diocese, about 384 were women. 

Mr David Piwang, a pilgrim, attributes the large number of female pilgrims to family responsibilities and the fact that women are dedicated to the service of the Lord.

“Some men claim to have family responsibilities since they are the breadwinners for their respective families back home. But we also have some historical facts that attach the mothers (women) to spiritual matters more than the men. When you attend church, the women tend to be more than the men,” he says.

An 11-year-old Solomon Munguromo is among the more than 500 Nebbi diocese pilgrims.PHOTO/DAN WANDERA

Solomon Munguromo, a Primary Six pupil at Paidha Glorious Nursery and Primary School, is among the youngest pilgrims. He is not walking just for fun; he seeks God’s help to uplift his family and fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor in the future.

“I want to be a medical doctor to treat my people in Pakwach District. This is my first time to walk such a long distance but I have already prayed to God to answer my prayers. I hope to be a doctor in the future. My journey is for a breakthrough for school fees and good class performance,” he says.

Pilgrims well and strong
Rev Fr Charles Biweka from Panyangol Sub-parish, Nebbi Catholic Diocese, is leading more than 500 Christians on a pilgrimage to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine. He notes the pilgrims are in high spirits and feel as though they have already reached Namugongo. They hope to cover the few kilometres in two days, he says.

“The entire team is fine, including one lady who accidentally stepped on a sharp stick and got bruised as we approached Luweero Town. She is recovering and getting on well,” he says.

State Minister for Energy and Mineral Development Phionah Nyamutoro while flagging off the pilgrims in Bombo called for a purposeful journey that puts God at the forefront.

“The elderly, youth, and all Ugandans need to know that God is our helper. I have decided to join the foot pilgrims for my life and all other Ugandans. We need to seek God to restore the fear of the Lord in our country,” she says.

Journey to Namugongongo, not the end
Fr Biweka emphasizes to his team that reaching Namugongo should not define their faith in Christ. He says instead, they should focus on living a changed life and striving for Heaven.

“We are glad that the team is happy to be moving with the priests for the more than 400km journey. They are greatly inspired. Our message to the pilgrims is to work for Heaven and not Namugongo as a place. They need to serve the Almighty God and work for Heaven,” he says.

Mr Robert Orombi, a team leader among the Nebbi Diocese pilgrims, says all pilgrims are supposed to move as guided.

“We wake up at 5am each day for the morning prayer before we clean the area where we sleep for the night. By 6:30am, all the pilgrims should be dressing up after the general cleaning and taking a bath before we embark on the journey,” he says.

By 7am, Orombi reveals that the pilgrims are expected to be assembling for prayer and final briefing before they set off for the journey.

According to Fr Charles Biweka , the original group of more than 700 pilgrims was screened before departure, reducing the number to less than 600 due to health concerns. Despite the reduction, this is likely the highest number of pilgrims they have ever had.

“We had to conduct a screening exercise. But we also ensured all those moving with us got registered and paid for the return journey transport from Namugongo shrines. We did not want to have cases of people that get stranded after the event,” he says.

Nebbi Diocese is under the Ecclesiastical Province of Gulu Archdiocese with some of the pilgrims believed to have come from DRC.

What some say...
Spiritual significance. 

Our message to the pilgrims is to work for Heaven and not Namugongo as a place, Rev Fr Charles Biweka

We wake up at 5 am each day for the morning prayer before we embark on the journey,’’ Mr Robert Orombi

Prayer has kept my surviving family members in good health after the devil robbed me of my seven children,’’ Ms Kachila Acibu

This is my first time to walk such a long distance but I have already prayed to God to answer my prayers,’’ Solomon Munguromo