Do Martyrs Matter anymore?

For many years, the catholic and generally the christian community has been and still remembers 3rd June as the day for the gruesome murder of  Uganda martyrs, butchered for their faith. The day is celebrated in memory of 22 Christians who were killed in the late 19th Century on Kabaka Mwanga’s (King of Buganda) orders because they chose Christianity as a religion.

On June 6, 1920, they were beatified by Pope Pope Benedict XV, and on October 18, 1964, Pope Paul VI canonised them in the presence of  Bishops gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. This event is commemorated at Uganda Martyr’s shrine in Namugongo, where pilgrims travel to celebrate the day.

The Namugongo Shrine (basilica) built in 1967
The Namugongo Shrine (basilica) built in 1967

But there are number of questions here, were they really 22? why were really murdered?, were they only Catholics as alleged, were they only men, were they baganda only? Much as records reveal 22 catholic baganda men some disqualify the pilgrimage based on colonial acrimony, rebellion, and tribe. Others people relate this to faith.

Amazingly, only those who flock to this place are ordinary and poor people who trek on foot for hundreds of kilometers and camp for about a week before the D-day, 3rd June. There are many catholic celebrities in Uganda who never go to Namugongo and more of the poor peasants. In fact, the peasants comprise of the biggest number. They do the actual trekking to the shrine and are composed of the lower class that is the women, farmers and the poor. The rich, celebrities and others in the corporate class like the priests who conduct prayers during and before the day are chauffeured in cars on that day. Many trek from as far Arua, Moroto, Kabale, Soroti, Gulu. But there are no groups that walk from Ntinda, Katwe, Namugongo..(kampala surbus).

Some of the pilgrims that flocked to the shrine days before the celebrations
Some of the pilgrims that flocked to the shrine days before the celebrations
Plaiting Hair
Earlier pilgrims utilising their time by plaiting their hair
Some women taking a rest after trekking several miles
Bible preps
A pilgrim takes notes days prior to the D-day


Many people throng the shrine in big numbers on this day, but some end up in crime. I look at this as religious hypocrisy. While  others genuinely go to pray,and repent many others turn the pilgrimage for business, robbery and the like. I thought the place was supposed to be holy and not abominable.

This day undermines the event. It’s mostly women who attend and sometimes are turned away when it’s time to talk about domestic matters. It’s the very religious section that oppresses women when it comes to domestic relations issues.

In fact i wonder whether martyrs matter anymore and whether the day is relevant anyway since what the martyrs died for was their own choice. This event should be used to address many more serious national issues and celebrated as a national event.



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