On 3rd June every year, thousands of people of all ages, races, nations, and color trek from around the world to commemorate, and celebrate the death of the Uganda Martyrs. This is a major tourist site with a pool of water that is believed to be blessed. When one talks of Namugongo they perhaps mean some ‘Holy Land’ in the heart of Wakiso district in Uganda. Here, the martyrs’ Basilica affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church finds shelter as well as an Anglican Uganda Martyrs Shrine affiliated to the Church of Uganda.
A Church was built at the spot where majority of the twenty-two catholic martyrs were burned to death, and another stands were the ten Anglican martyrs met their death. The Anglican spot (now church) was about 2 miles east of the catholic spot now a Basilica. Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is located in Kira Municipality, Wakiso district approximately 14 kilometers Northeast of Kampala city center. The remarkable basilica stands proud along the road making it easily accessible. While along the road one can see the shrine constructed just like an African hut, pretty eye-catching.
The religious and cultural center draws people from all walks of life, and all parts of the world to see the place where the young converts were burnt to death. This is done especially in June for it’s the month majority were killed. 3rd June is a public holiday in commemoration of the converts, who were killed on Kabaka Mwanga’s for their refusal to renounce Christianity.
There is a pilgrim’s office open everyday of the week from 9:00am to 6:00pm EAT, where one is required to start from. Here one must pay their tourism fees and a guide is given to enlighten them about the history and significance of the place. The Basilica was dedicated to the Ugandan Martyrs in 1973. The twenty-two catholic martyrs were canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and regarded as saints in the Catholic Church. A Catholic church was also built at the site by the Mill Hill Missionaries in 1935; 49 years after the Namugongo martyrdom.
We learnt the Shrine rests on approximately twenty-six hectares of land, gazetted for prayers (mass), recollection, seminars, retreats, reflections, meditation, fellowship, weddings and faith based tourism. The big spectacular shrine has got an incredible interior as well. First of all, the wooden doors express the history of the martyrs.
The unique lake in the peaceful garden center of Namugongo is another attraction one should not miss to explore. This lake is delineation in memory of the martyrs; various pilgrims often fetch water from this historical lake believing it will perform miracles. For the Faithful, the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is a must visit- for prayer, meditation, or even just to feel at home. The Shrine is a respected Catholic Monument, which recently attracted the sitting Pope, Pope Francis in 2015.
Editor’s Note: Mirembe Kisakye contributed to this article.