The Uganda Martyrs Catholic Shrine at Namugongo has transformed over the years. Its expansion to accommodate thousands of pilgrims during celebrations, and provide a conducive atmosphere for prayer is remarkable.
Behind these works, and more that are ongoing is what the faithful remember about the late Archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga.
They describe him as a hardworking servant of God who loved his calling and served humanity.
The Rev Fr Vincent Lubega, the Namugongo Catholic Parish priest, who worked closely with late Archbishop Lwanga in 2015, says the prelate spearheaded several projects that have transformed the shrine.
“The first assignment I had from him was to ensure I work with him with all the faithful, bishops and government so that we redevelop this place. Although the place is holy, it was not conducive for those coming for prayers,” Fr Lubega says.
“He wanted whoever comes for pilgrimage in Namugongo to get the best out of it. The best is to pray but once the environment is not conducive, you may be distracted. He loved the people he served. The archbishop lived the gospel statement where Jesus said: ‘I have come so that you may have life, life in full,’” he adds.
To live this life in full, Archbishop Lwanga embraced the fight against poverty by setting up income-generating projects such as Wakembe Sacco to improve the livelihoods of the faithful.
“His devotion to make sure people are okay was not for the spirit alone, but also materially. He hated poverty and ensured that whoever is suffering works with him so that he elevates their living standards,” Fr Lubega says.
Archbishop Lwanga’s service also extended to the hearts of those much closer to him-- the workers at the Catholic shrine, who witnessed his passion.
His demise has created a gap that some of them wonder what will happen to the unfinished projects he was spearheading. For instance, Archbishop Lwanga had embarked on building houses for priests, parish offices, rooms for pilgrims and those for retreats.
Fr Lubega says the late had plans of purifying the water at Namugongo, constructing a garden of prayer, whose works are ongoing, build 24 structures for the Uganda martyrs. Construction of 10 already has started.
“Since we have a [man-made] lake, people come to fetch water from there. But it cannot be as pure, but he wanted to introduce some machines to purify the water. He was also constructing a garden of prayer. We hope that with the new administration, it will be finished,” Fr Lubega says.
Our Lady Queen of Peace (Kiwamirembe)
Archbishop Lwanga’s plans also stretched to Our Lady Queen of Peace (Kiwamirembe) at Nakigalala Hill on Entebbe Road .
The prelate envisioned establishing a 10,000-seater public arena and holy shrine for meditation and Bible study.
Fr Edward Kabanda, the rector of the 34-acre-shrine, says during the 1979 war, Idi Amin’s soldiers used the shrine as a barracks to defend themselves against the advancing Tanzania Defence Forces, which eventually toppled him.
“We had a Comboni missionary, Fr John Benardi, who was the parish priest at St Joseph’s Lweza. During the insurgency, people ran to the parish for refuge, and he encouraged them to recite the Rosary while praying for peace,” Rev Kabanda says.
He says Fr Benard always pleaded with the soldiers not to shoot at the church because it housed civilians.
“In 1980 after the soldiers had vacated the hill, Fr Bernadi started searching for the owner of the hill to establish a church. In 1987, Leopald Kapacha Mukasa emerged, claiming ownership and offered it to the church to pray,” he says.
The cleric recalls that in 1989, the late Emmanuel K. Nsubuga dedicated the hill to Mary Queen of Peace, and since then, it has been an area for pilgrimages for peace prayer.
Fr Kabanda also remembers that when Lwanga was still the bishop of Kasana Luweero, he went to the shrine every Tuesday to intercede for peace, and when he became archbishop, he directed that August 15 becomes the official day for all Christians to make a pilgrimage to the area.
Since 2007, Archbishop Lwanga has been leading Mass in the area.
The area has a 15-seater chapel, a church sanctuary housing the 10,000 seater arena and a Scala Sancta (Holy Steps) to remind the Christians about the steps Jesus climbed to meet Pontius Pilate, who crucified him. The area also has a garden for nature lovers.
Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine Basilica
The prelate’s work can also be traced at Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine Basilica.
Fr Wojtek Male Ulman, the shrine rector, says while still the bishop of Kasana-Luweero, Lwanga invited the Conventual Franciscan Friars to Uganda, particularly to the small township of Kakooge in Nakasongola District.
Over the years, Archbishop Lwanga gave them a parish in Matugga in 2001 and a new shrine before redevelopment in Munyonyo.
“We were planning with the archbishop to organise and celebrate the 20th anniversary of our presence in Uganda this month. However, God’s plans were different,” Fr Wojtek says.
He says their community has experienced fatherly love, guidance and support from the archbishop.
Fr Wojtek remembers in August 2011, Lwanga paid a surprise visit to the community in a small rented house in Matugga, and jokingly during supper, initiated the idea of them taking care of the martyrs’ shrine in Munyonyo where St Andrew Kaggwa and others were martyred.
He says they did not take the proposals seriously because they had never heard of the undeveloped martyrdom site in Munyonyo.
“Our house in Matugga was under construction and the parish church was not even started, with no available funds, therefore, it seemed impossible to plan another presence in Kampala,” Fr Wojtek says.
The cleric recalls that it took them more than a year to settle in Matugga and discuss the possibility of shifting to Munyonyo.
However, in 2013 the first friars, (Fr Kajubi Marian and Fr Mutebi Adam) explored the shores of Lake Victoria searching for nearby accommodation and planned how a new shrine can be developed.
However, the location at Munyonyo shrine had many challenges, including unresolved land court cases and the planned expressway that was passing through the tomb of St Andrew.
Although all these matters needed the archbishop’s attention, he always emphasised the importance of the holy site at Uganda Martyrs shrine and how it can help the archdiocese.
“His vision for the shrine was beyond our imagination. When the news of Pope Francis coming to Uganda in 2015 was announced, he ensured that the new shrine is constructed to the international standard within the shortest time,” Fr Wojtek says.
“Pope Francis has not only visited Munyonyo, but has kept referring to this event. Upon requests and guidance of the archbishop, we are planning to accommodate catechists as it was the wish of Pope Francis to give them better support and pastoral attention,” he says.
The cleric adds that Lwanga ensured that the church was completed and consecrated by Cardinal Fernando Filoni (from Rome).
In 2019, he advocated for it to be named the third Basilica in Uganda and 23rd in Africa during a meeting at the Vatican, something none of them expected. Today, the shrine hosts mass weddings, symposia, Uganda Joint Christian Council prayers and other pastoral activities.
“He has always been coming for personal prayer to the tomb of St Andrew and the martyrdom spot of St Denis. He was the most important custodian of the place and was always available with pastoral guidance and fatherly support,” Fr Wojtek concludes.
Some of his achievements
·Fast-tracked completion of Mapeera House
·Established Wekembe Women’s Empowerment Sacco
·Built Cyprian Kyabakadde Primary and Secondary School
·Refurbished administration offices of Kampala Archdiocese
·Refurbished Rubaga Cathedral
· Renovated Pope Paul Memorial Hotel
·Constructed administration buildings for the Kasana Luweero Diocese
·Renovated Nkozi, Nsambya and Kisubi hospitals
·Started the construction of St Paul’s University Ggaba
·Initiated a Youth Association Banabakizito
·Introduced Karitas Uganda to help with Rural Development
·Refurbished and renovated the Mapeera Bakateyamba Home of the Elderly
·Revived the Marianum Printing Press in Kisubi
·Planted trees and starte many income-generating projects
·Increased number of parishes
·Developed St Mbaaga Seminary
·Sponsored students in Kasana–Luweero
·Constructed highway markets in Luweero
·Constructed St Cyprian Chavanod College in Luweero
·Improved farming in Kasana Luweero