Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
Gulu Archdiocese, who came to Namugongo with a colourful choir comprising more than 320 persons, animated this year’s Martyrs Day. On display, during the Mass, were a diversity of Uganda’s cultural liturgical music, dance and attire.
Young St. Kizito is an example to be followed
Speaking during the homily, Archbishop John Baptist Odama, of Gulu, challenged Ugandans to follow the example of the youngest of the Martyrs -St. Kizito, who even at the age of 13 years, chose to obey God rather than an earthly King. The theme of this year’s Martyrs Day was, “Obey God always and everywhere.”
Two girls 9 and 10 years old walk 300 Kilometers as pilgrims
Archbishop Odama held-up two young girls aged 9 and 10 years as the young Kizitos and Jilda Irwas of today. The children joined adult pilgrims of Mbarara in walking to the Namugongo Shrine, a distance of more than 300 kilometres. The Archbishop called to the stage the two children and introduced them to the crowd. He also introduced 97-year-old Bernado Tibyangye who equally walked 300 Kilometres from Bushenyi District in Mbarara.
“Kizito, the youngest of the Martyrs, said it is better to die than to sin. Here I want to include those who have walked from Mbarara.” According to Archbishop Odama, those who choose Christ must always obey God no matter the circumstances. He added, “The youngest of the Martyrs, Kizito, had a choice: To obey God or to sin. He chose to die,” said the Gulu prelate.
Young Martyrs: Saint Kizito and Blessed Jildo Irwa
Saint Kizito was the youngest of the group of 22 Catholic martyrs of Uganda, beatified by Benedict XV on 6 June 1920 and canonised by Pope Paul VI, in Rome, on 18 October 1964. Blessed Jildo Irwa is not widely known perhaps because he was not one of the 22 martyrs. He is one of the two Paimol Martyrs killed in 1917 at the age of 14.
Disobedience is the root cause of society’s ills
Archbishop Odama has also said the root causes of domestic violence, corruption, human trafficking, theft, robbery, child sacrifices, xenophobia and other sins of the flesh are to be found in disobedience to God.
The country’s Vice President Edward Ssekandi represented the Government of Uganda at the celebrations. The new Apostolic Nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Luigi Bianco was also in attendance as were the Bishops of Uganda. More than 5,000 foreign pilgrims from around the world attended Martyrs Day.
Security terror alert
Meanwhile, the celebrations this year were characterised by a heavy presence of security following a terror alert that Ugandan media said was issued by the Internal Security Organisation ahead of the religious festivities. The terror alert did not dampen spirits though entry into the grounds of the Shrine was slow due to added checks.
More sensitisation needed for plastic ban
Ugandan media and Church officials were also quick to note that more awareness was needed if pilgrims are to adhere to the Ugandan Bishops’ decision to ban plastic bags and bottles at the Shrine.
President of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Bishop Joseph Anthony Zziwa announced last May that starting this year, the use of plastic bags in and around the premises of the Uganda Martyrs Shrine would not be allowed.
Speaking to one of Uganda’s largest privately owned newspaper, the Observer, Fr Phillip Odii, the Director of Communications at the Catholic Secretariat, said although the Church met challenges of enforcing the ban this year, the Church would continue sensitising the public, and hopefully future celebrations would be plastic-free or ‘Kaveera’-free as plastic is known locally.