Somewhere in Uganda, in
the small town of Namugongo is a magnificent site; the Uganda Martyrs Shrine
which is a must visit for anyone interested in Uganda’s faith-based tourism
while on your Uganda safari. It stands tall with the grandeur of an ancient
Cathedral whose structural design derives its inspiration from the African Hut.
This Basilica has 22 copper pillars over 100 feet long supporting the shrine,
with the capacity to accommodate 1000 people whose seats are organized in a circular
form. Its construction started in 1967 and was completed in 1975. A lake was
excavated in the Martyrs’ honor and bares a pavilion or Island which takes the
form of a modern boat. It has a deck like feature on which the altar for Holy
Mass is found and a cabin beneath the altar bearing the Sacristy, a kitchen and
bedroom which Pope Francis shortly occupied on his visit to Uganda in 2015.

Vast is the acreage on
which the Shrine stands, yet deeper is the fact that it is the land upon which
15 of the 22 Martyrs were burnt alive on the orders of Kabaka (King) Mwanga for
their refusal to denounce their Christian faith.The Catholic young men and some
boys, Kizito, John Mary Mzee, Balikudembe, Charles Lwanga, Buzabalyawo and
Bruno Sserunkuuma among others were subsequently beatified and canonized
collectively as saints under the reign of Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

3rd June is the day on
which Uganda celebrates Martyrs Day and for the past 96 years, it has not been
an ordinary day in this town. The sun may still rise from the east and water
may still be the colorless liquid that quenches thirst; yet the streets, the
residents, the shops and their keepers will for a day or more live a different
version of events because of the masses of people that come to the Shrine on
this day.

Around this date,
pilgrims from in and out of Uganda make their way to the Martyrs Shrine in
Namugongo. For some the journey is not one traveled with the convenience of a
car, but rather walking barefooted for miles, from as far as Kenya, as a
sacrifice in honor of the Martyrs. The atmosphere is usually sweaty body upon
body and pilgrims walking with visible exhaustion yet thriving on the spiritual
inspiration drawn from these brave young men to whom they come to pay homage.
You will not miss the sight of hawkers and vendors selling items ranging from
souvenirs of the martyrs to teddy bears. A number of kiosks will also be within
the vicinity selling pork (a local favorite) and cheap liquor for those that
may have come to celebrate in ways other than the spiritual.

Ugandans have expressed
in art and architecture their tribute to the Martyrs. The recent addition to
the tributes is the Uganda Martyrs Museum set up by the Church of Uganda. On a
safari to Uganda, a visit to this Museum would give you a visual walk through
the life of the martyrs and their death, some by slaughter and others by a slow
grueling holocaust. Where the tongues of Uganda’s elders have grown weary of
recounting historic events, the young and imaginative minds have through
sculpture and paintings, through folk songs and architecture preserved Uganda’s
history for posterity.


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