It has been 20 years since the diocese of Jinja last animated the Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations at Namugongo Martyrs Shrine. The diocese last animated the highly billed religious event in 2002 under the then bishop Joseph Willigers.
This year (2023), the opportunity was granted to Eastern Ecclesiastical Province of Tororo to lead the celebrations. The province, instead, tasked Jinja diocese to animate. Animation of the Martyrs
Day that falls on June 3rd annually is a rotational program made by the Uganda Episcopal Conference, an assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Uganda that is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the progress of the Church and coordination of its social and pastoral ministry.
Jinja diocese now led by the Lord Bishop Charles Martin Wamika made a spectacular display before thousands of pilgrims from across the world that turned up to pay homage to the Uganda Martyrs who were murdered between 1885 and 1887 for their unwavering belief in God.
In his sermon, Bishop Wamika urged the faithful to emulate the values that the martyrs stood for.
“The Uganda martyrs died because of their faith in Jesus Christ. They braved a lot of tribulations to the extent of being burnt as Martyrs at Namugongo. We are told that Kizito was the youngest but he displayed his faith in Christ by shading his blood though no one could imagine that he could accept to go through such as experience at that tender age,” Bishop Wamika said.
A total of about 7,000 pilgrims from Busoga led by the kingdom premier, Dr. Joseph Muvawala, were flagged off by Bishop Wamika on Monday May 29. They first spent a night in Lugazi before making a stop-over in Mukono on Tuesday 30th where they based to storm Namugongo on Wednesday.
The Basoga pilgrims, clad in Busoga culture attires and in the company of several choirs mesmerized the audience at Namugongo as they snaked their way to the alter.
“This is a record-breaking display. We have proved who we are as Basoga and we have set the bar so high for the dioceses that will animated the event in the near future,” said Moses Gonza, a pilgrim from Iganga who camped in Namugongo for three days.
Gonza said he never misses the event and that the Martyrs have always delivered what he asks from them.
The Holy day that attracts faithful from different parts of the world is celebrated in memory of the 45 martyrs who shed blood because of their faith in God. These Catholic and Anglican pillars were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, the king of Buganda between 1885 and 1887.
Two of the 23 Catholic martyrs hailed from Busoga and these were St. Gonzaga Gonza from Bugonza in Kaliro district and St Matia Mulumba from Kyebando in Bunha, Mayuge district. Every year, Christians gather in the two places to celebrate and honor the two Busoga martyrs.
This year’s Martyrs Day was commemorated under the theme; “Lord, increase our Faith’’, quoted in Luke 17:5.
“We do not joke when it comes to matters of faith. In the diocese of Jinja, we have a slogan which goes: “Aghali okwikiriza wazila muzanho”. It is the reason we come to celebrate today on the solemnity of the Uganda martyrs,” Bishop Wamika said.
According to Bishop Wamika, believers need to ask God to increase their faith to the size of a mastered seed so that the emulate the example of the Uganda martyrs who shed their blood for Christ.
“This is why we believe that the blood of the Martyrs is the seed of faith. We now rejoice because they planted a seed of faith which is a land-mark in Uganda and each year we gather in that spirit to give thanks to God for the gift of faith of the Uganda martyrs,” he said.
This year’s Martyrs Day celebration was graced by the powerful and mighty of Busoga region, including His Royal Highness the Kyabazinga of BusogaWilliam Wilberforce Nadiope Gabula IV, the 1st Deputy Prime Minister Rebecca Kadaga and the Minister for General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister Kasule Lumumba who also doubled as the Mistress of Ceremony.
The Kyabazinga in his message urged Christians to follow the example of the Uganda Martyrs so that their sacrifice does not end in vain.
According to President Museveni in a message delivered for him by Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, the martyrs were courageous examples that led to the plantation of Christianity in Uganda. President Museveni contributed Shs2 billion for the success of the celebration.
Rt. Rev. Joseph Anthony Zziwa, the Uganda Episcopal Conference chairperson, hailed pilgrims for demonstrating commitment to follow and deepen their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He urged them to continue seeking the Lord and doing his will.
“In a world, today, characterized by war, revenge, struggle for power and influence, consumerism and economic wars, the request of the Apostles can be re-echoed and Jesus’ response becomes relevant in shaping our understanding of these and other phenomena bedeviling humankind. The world needs healing, cooperation, justice and ultimately, love, as the solution to these challenges, with Jesus as the model, the way, the life and the truth,” Rev. Zziwa said.
Jinja diocese was created in 1966, being cut off from the former Diocese of Kampala (which was under the mill hill fathers) and the See of the latter being transferred to Jinja. The diocese also has a special attachment to the Uganda Martyrs given the fact that some of the new converts who were killed like Gonzaga Gonza and Matia Mulumba were Basoga.