Thousands of Christians from Uganda and neighbouring countries are arriving in Namugongo for special services to commemorate the Ugandan Martyrs. In 3 June 1886, the Kabaka – or King – of Buganda, Mwanga II, killed 32 young Anglicans and Roman Catholic men – who worked as his pages – by burning them alive at Namugongo. They were among 23 Anglicans and 22 Roman Catholics who were put to death by the king for killed by for refusing to recant their faith between 1885 and 1887.
Yesterday, services were held at both the Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines in Namugongo, led by bishops from both Churches. Other similar events will be held in the coming days, leading up to national commemorations on Sunday.
The Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali and Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, with bishops from the two churches at the Ugandan Martyrs Shrines in Namugongo.
Photo: Bishop Henry Katumba / Diocese of West Buganda
Speaking at a service in the Anglican shrine yesterday, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Uganda, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, asked Ugandans to repent over the widespread kidnaps and killings of women and children in the country, according to the Daily Monitor newspaper. “We have lost many people through kidnaps and murder,” he said. “We need to use this time to repent. We need to ask God to forgive us because we have sinned in different ways. The martyrs suffered because of their faith and as the Joint Christian Council, we need to take this time not to preach to convert people to our religions but bring ourselves together to fight against the ongoing evil in our country.”
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, speaking at the Catholic shrine, echoed the call, saying: ““What is our purpose as the Church when there are all these murders and kidnaps? We call upon security organs to quickly bring this mess to its end. We are living in an evil world and we need to help each other and encourage ourselves to repent.”
Although there are separate Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines, the joint ecumenical services at each one were not extraordinary. In 2015 Pope Francis visited the Anglican shrine with Archbishop Stanley during his visit to Uganda, and spoke of the “ecumenism of blood”.
“All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age,” Pope Francis said at the time. “The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift which is meant to be shared. It unites us to one another as believers and living members of Christ’s mystical Body. We do not receive the gift of the Spirit for ourselves alone, but to build up one another in faith, hope and love.”
Pilgrims have already started to arrive at the shrines ahead of Sunday’s national commemorations. Many have been camping out. Security is tight and road closures are in place preventing vehicular access to everybody except VIPs. Pilgrims attending from the Democratic Republic of Congo are being screened for Ebola and an isolation ward has been established at a nearby hospital to treat any suspected cases.