• Thursday, June 13, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Uganda on global tourism spotlight as pilgrims arrive for Martyrs Day Celebration

Uganda on global tourism spotlight as pilgrims arrive for Martyrs Day Celebration

Once again, Uganda is about living up to its billing as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ as visitors from across the world flock the country to celebrate this year’s annual Martyrs Day Celebration.

The celebration spanning many decades is observed on June 3rd of every year, which is also a public holiday in Uganda.

On that day, over 2 million pilgrims, the highest in an African soil, will flock the expansive Namugongo Martyrs Shrines to commemorate the killing of 45 converts to Christianity; 23 Catholics and 22 Anglicans, who were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda between 1885 and 1887.

In recent times, over 1 million pilgrims, in one sitting, have attended the celebration with the number increasing each year at both the Catholic and Anglican martyrs’ shrines in Namugongo.

Vincent Mwanga, a Catholic reverend father and priest in charge of the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine, assured that more pilgrims are expected this year.

“We have had 1.3 million pilgrims here just in one day. Last year there were about 1.2 million pilgrims and you cannot see the grass lawn because of the huge crowd. We expect more this year,” the Catholic priest said.

Already, Namugongo Martyrs Shrine has welcomed the first set of pilgrims from neighbouring Kenya, who probably trekked to the shrine as many faithful believe that it is a more rewarding way to journey for the pilgrimage.

The Kenyan pilgrims arrived at St Jude Catholic Church in Uganda on May 21, 2024 and were welcomed by Alex Asiimwe, a traffic police officer with the Busia District.

Explaining the challenges they faced to get the shrine, the pilgrims said that they endured swollen legs, hunger and other difficulties to be among the first pilgrims to tap into God’s blessing at the Uganda Martyrs this year.

There is also a beehive of activities at the Anglican Martyrs Shrine at Nakiyanga, Namugongo, as the six dioceses under the Ruwenzori Cluster put finishing touches to preparation for a successful celebration this year.

Reuben Kisembo, bishop of the Ruwenzori Diocese and the chairman of the Ruwenzori Cluster, assured of their readiness to host over 1 million people on June 3rd Martyrs Day Celebration.

While Kenyans are leading the first batch of East African pilgrims at the two shrines this year, other Africans and global visitors are following in days to come.

Expected among them are Nigerians who would normally come in good numbers, dressed in colourful uniforms and boldly flying their country’s flag at the shrines, yet not leaving the spiritual aspect of their visit.

As well, the Anglican Bishop of Nigeria is the one leading the Anglicans in this year’s Martyrs Day, further boosting Nigeria’s presence at the shrines, which are among the holiest for Christians in Africa.

Of course, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) is not relenting in its efforts at wooing more Africans to visit the ‘Pearl of Africa’ on business and tourism purposes, especially for pilgrimage on June 3rd for the Martyrs Day Celebration.

Lilly Ajarova, CEO, UTB, noted that in addition to many exciting offerings, religious tourism is now big in Uganda with the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine now a rally point for pilgrimage.

She expressed the preparedness of the country to host pilgrims from across the world on June 3rd, noting that everything is ready, from venues at the shrines, security, crowd control, hotel accommodation and even food to eat.

The UTB CEO also urged pilgrims and visitors alike to take advantage of Uganda Airlines direct flight from Entebbe to many African countries and other parts of the world to visit the Pearl of Africa as the air connectivity challenge has been solved with cheap, convenient and direct flights.

Meanwhile, the East Africa country is riding on the success of its just-concluded Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE 2024) to pull off another exciting edition of the Martyrs Day celebration this year.

POATE was held at Speke Resort and Convention Centre in Munyonyo, Kampala, from May 23-25, 2024, and it hosted over 1000 delegates including hosted buyers and international media.