Paul Samasumo -Vatican City
One needs to attend the Martyrs Day at the Namugongo Shrine in Uganda to appreciate the massive celebration that brings together close 1 million pilgrims in one place. This year, Uganda’s Diocese of Masaka was expected to animate the Liturgical celebration.
Martyrs Day is marked as a public holiday in Uganda.
Celebrations in the dioceses
National Director of Communications at the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Fr. Philip Odii told Vatican News that, this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martyrs Day would be celebrated in the various dioceses with limited congregations.
The Archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga was scheduled to preside a Mass commemorating the martyrs at the Namugongo shrine. The Mass would be broadcast live on TV, radio and Facebook. Acknowledging the unprecedented situation leading to the cancellation of the annual celebrations, the Archbishop has since led the faithful in a novena to the Uganda Martyrs which ended on Monday, this week.
Novena to the Uganda Martyrs
During the novena, Ugandans committed to the intercession of the Martyrs, the sick, caregivers and “those working to minimise the impact of COVID-19.”
“This year, when the entire world is hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and so prompted to adopt new norms like social distancing, the Uganda Episcopal Conference made the historic and momentous decision to suspend public celebrations of the Solemnity of the Uganda Martyrs Day at Namugongo,” explained the Kampala prelate.
Floods and locusts in East Africa
East African countries have this year been badly hit by floods as well as invasions of swarms of locusts that have destroyed crops. In response, Ugandans used the novena to also pray for victims of the flooding, those displaced as a result of the floods as well as those who have lost crops due to the ongoing invasion of locusts. Prayers were also made for God’s protection against all hazards.
The 22 Catholic Martyrs
The Uganda Martyrs were a group of 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican converts to Christianity in the historic Kingdom of Buganda. Most of the converts were young men and boys. The new Christian converts abandoned traditional forms of worship. This in turn led Kabaka Mwanga II (the King) to fear that the new religion and presence of the missionaries were severely eroding his authority in the Kingdom. He ordered the execution of the converts between 1885 and 1887. The decision unleashed a wave of persecutions against Christians in the Kingdom.