Uganda celebrates its martyrs
Walking up to 250 miles on foot for days, over 500,000 pilgrims in Uganda sang and prayed as they celebrated their country’s martyrs in an event supported by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The celebrations on June 3rd occurred at the national shrine in Namugongo, close to the capital Kampala, in the Diocese of Moroto. Pilgrims included participants from Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and some from as far away as Malawi and Nigeria.
"We are standing on soil that is soaked with the blood of the martyrs," declared Bishop Henry Ssentongo of Moroto in his homily.
Between 1885 and 1887, 22 young men who served as pages at the Court of King Mwanga in Namugongo were put to death for refusing demands from their ruler that went against their faith. They were among the first Christian converts in their country.
Today over 12.6 million of the country's 28 million inhabitants are Catholics, and every year some 400,000 more are baptized.
Each year more and more have come to take part in the great feast, and estimates for the throng have gone as high as one million. Among the pilgrims were hundreds of priests, all the bishops of Uganda and a handful of foreign bishops, along with thousands more watching on television.
The northeast of Uganda is the most underdeveloped region of the country, one that continues to be so sorely marked by violence. One of the organizers was shot dead on the eve of the departure of the pilgrims from Moroto for the festival.
Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads the Africa desk of ACN, commented on the celebrations, "I am proud that we were able to help for this!"
"At last the people of the Karamoja region have been able to show that they have something really precious to offer their country and their Church!"
Bishop Ssentongo went on to emphasize in his homily, "This pilgrimage should mark a turning point in our lives... it is not enough to celebrate the fact that Uganda is a country of martyrs; instead we must follow in their footsteps and imitate Christ right up to the end!"
With pictures from the celebration of Ugandan martyrs in Namugongo (Photo: ACN)
From Editor's Notes:
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information contact Michael Varenne at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org