In June of every year, over two million people from across the world congregate at Namugongo Shrine, about 16 kilometres from Kampala, the Ugandan capital; a gathering acclaimed to be the largest Christian pilgrimage in Africa.
The faithful were lucky though, because such gathering in some years back, particularly in 1886 would have attracted their death. However, these Christian faithful are usually in Namugongo Shrine to commemorate the lives and religious beliefs of the 32 young Uganda Martyrs who were burnt to death on June 3, 1886 at Namugongo on the order of King Mwanga II of Buganda for their refusal to renounce Christianity.
Beyond the basilica built at the spot where the majority of martyrs were burnt, the shrine houses 22 of the Catholic martyrs canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 18, 1964 and are regarded as saints in the Catholic Church.
But while the shrine is now a place people flock daily in tens and thousands to honour and pray to God through the intercession of the 22 Uganda Martyrs, the sheer beauty of the shrine and the tranquil environ are big draws for pilgrims.
Supported by 22 copper pillars; over 100 feet long, the imposing giant structure of the shrine built in form of an African hut is worth seeing. As well, its wooden doors depict the history of the Martyrs, while inside, it seats 1,000 people arranged in a circular form.
Another attraction in the Namugongo Shrine that draws visitors is the Pavilion. It is like an island in the lake with a clear view that can be seen from all angles of the over 15 acres Shrine compound. It is inside the pavilion that the main celebrant sits on big occasions like Martyrs’ day on June 3 of every year. The grass thatched pavilion, also built in circular form like the Shrine is supported by four pillars and can accommodate more than 300 priests and a number of bishops that turn for the High Mass on Martyrs Day.
With all these in mind, the Uganda government through the Ugandan Tourism Board, organized familiarization trips for hosted buyers and international media as part of activities for this year’s edition of Pearl of African Tourism Expo (POATE), which held from February 4-6, 2020 at Speak Resort Hotel Munyonyo Uganda.
The Namugongo Shrine was one of the several attractions the visitors witnessed during the pre-POATE familiarization trips that lasted from January 29 to February 3, 2020.
Some tourists, who visited in 2015, were able to join Pope Francis in his historic visit to Uganda from November 27-29, 2015.
The visit afforded them the rare opportunity of seeing the pope in his public appearance; including celebrating Mass at the Namugongo Shrine, fraternizing and feting the ordinary people.
Beyond the shrine, visitors can also plan their holiday for memorable experiences as the country’s tourism is waiting to fete visitors with the best of nature and man-made attractions.
According Lilly Ajarova, chief executive officer, Uganda Tourism Board, beyond religious tourism, the country, which she describes as the Pearl of Africa, has abundant of nature-from scenic wonders to wildlife besides well-developed hospitality infrastructure.
We have world-class and well-maintained hotels, the safaris are more adventurous and indulging and nature’s sound is more melodious. You have many reasons to visit us now; to see our wildlife, feel our scenic wonders and most importantly, feel the warmth of the peace-loving Ugandans”, the tourism executive says.
For the target visitors, Ajarova says all Christian faithful, business visitors and tourists alike. However, she hopes to see more Nigerians, as the country parades the highest number of Catholics in Africa. The special invitation to Nigerians is also to acquaint them with the fact that Saint Molumba, Saint Kizito among other Catholic saints are from Uganda. This, according to her, will interest thousands of Catholic Knights of Saint Molumba and others in Nigeria, across Africa, and over the world.