Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On June 3rd, each year, thousands of faithfuls from all walks of life pack Uganda martyrs’ shrines at Namugongo. The area is highly congested due to the high number of people to extent that some of pilgrims sustain injuries as they fight to access the shrines.
To address the problem, the Catholic Church is opting to allocate an exclusive day to young pilgrims. The development will be pioneered Masaka Diocese which is organising this year’s event. The Bishop of Masaka Diocese, Rt. Rev Serverus Jjumba observes that over years Uganda Episcopal Conference has had desires to decongest the shrines on June 3rd.
He explains that while conducting planning meetings, the organising committee noticed that the huge crowds push children in the most vulnerable state. He says that as the number of pilgrims grows, they have observed that children hardly attend the celebrations yet they are the pillars of the future Church, which justifies the need to dedicate an exclusive day for them to allow them fully participate.
Bishop Jjumba says that children are expected to make their pilgrimage on May 29, a week before the official celebrations. He says this will act as a pilot that will inform future preparations. The prelate notes that the new development was taken into account during the planning and budgeting process adding that they are hunting for Shillings 950 million that will be used for the two days.
Rev. Fr. George William Lubega, the Organizing Committee Chairperson notes that to ensure safety and better organisation of children from different parts of the country will be brought to the shrines by their schools.
“It is better to manage them in that way. They will be under the supervision of their teachers. Schools must therefore ensure that children are transported safely. We pray that all parents who want their children to attend take advantage of this new arrangement,” he said.
In the same development, the church is also considering creating a creative promotion of the pilgrimage on foot in defense of nature in a drive dubbed “ecological memory of the martyrs”. Bishop Jjumba who has been an advocate for climate church since he was consecrated last year notes that all groups of foot pilgrims will be planting 24 trees in every parish where they will rest as they March in faith to Namugongo.
In the same spirit, each diocese will plant a similar number of trees at the close of the celebrations as a permanent reminder and protect the environment. Last year, the Uganda Episcopal conference banned the use of polythene bags at the shrines.
The same will be maintained this year with much more emphasis on learning from the implementation of the ban last year.
The pilgrimage which will happen in Kampala Archdiocese comes at a time when the Archbishop of Kampala passed a decree on the reception and giving of the Holy Eucharist.
Given the fact that Namugongo is under the jurisdictions of Kampala, it is unclear how the decree will be enforced given the fact that faithfuls and clergy from other dioceses will be around.
However, Bishop Anthony Zziwa, the chairperson Uganda Episcopal Conference observes that the matter will be harmonised and addressed during the forthcoming preparatory liturgical meetings.
Another challenge for the organizers is the skyrocketing budget for the event. Mgr. John Baptist Kawuuta, the Secretary Uganda Episcopal Conference notes that prior to Pope Francis’ visit in 2015, they had decided to procure several things that the church always spends on.
He says that to that effect, they ferried in experts and technicians from Italy to advice on several permanent things needed including the public address system among others. He however, says this has never been affected owing to the delayed completion of the shrines.