2021 Uganda Martyrs Day celebrated just about because of COVID-19 pandemic
Last year’s event was also low-key as pilgrim access was canceled due to a national coronavirus lockdown.
- Only 200 pilgrims invited this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Uganda’s martyrs were the first black saints from sub-Saharan Africa to be canonized
- The Catholic sanctuary was built on the site of the martyrdom of St. Charles (Karoli) Lwanga and St. Kizito
This year’s annual Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations, which fall on June 3, have been celebrated virtually with only 200 invited pilgrims due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the event was also low-key with access to pilgrims being canceled due to a national lockdown.
The 23-acre Namugongo Martyrs Shrine, which is 12 km from Kampala city center, was a magnet for annual celebrations on the Roman Catholic and Anglican church calendars before the pandemic, attracting up to 3 million pilgrims from around the world who and traveled for weeks or commutes from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and beyond to commemorate 45 young Christian converts, including 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics, who were on command between 1885 and 1887 of . martyred ruling (monarch) Kabaka Mwanga of the kingdom of Buganda in a test of shared loyalty between king and faith.
The Catholic sanctuary was built on the site of the martyrdom of St. Charles (Karoli) Lwanga and St. Kizito. Constructed of steel, each of the 22 pillars represents each of the 22 Catholic martyrs.
In 1969 Uganda became the first country in Africa to be visited by an incumbent Pope when Pope Paul VI. In the newly built sanctuary, a mass to commemorate 50 years since the beatification of the martyrs by Pope Benedict XV. celebrated in 1920.
Five years earlier, in 1964, the Uganda martyrs had been canonized in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, making them the first black saints from sub-Saharan Africa to be canonized.
During a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1993, he elevated the sanctuary to a small basilica in 1993.
In 2015, when Pope Francis’ visit was confirmed by the Vatican, the Government of Uganda and the Archdiocese of Kampala committed $ 24 million to transform the sanctuaries originally conceived by Monsignor Mbwega (pastor 1954-1980) into a world-class site the international one stands for Christianity and tourism through the reconstruction of the pavilion around the existing Martyrsee.
During the rebuilding, engineers had to dredge the lake and ensure that Mbwega’s trees, punctuated by chirping bird choirs, were included in the designs to preserve the tranquility of the sacred shrine.