Every June 3, thousands of pilgrims from Uganda and beyond throng the Uganda Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo, Wakiso District to honour St Charles Lwanga and his 21 companions who were killed for refusing to denounce Christianity between 1885 and 1887.
While the most well-known of the Namugongo Martyrs are the 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican faithful who were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga, 76 Muslims were also killed alongside them.
The Catholic Martyrs were on June 6, 1920, beatified by Pope Benedict XV, and canonised on October 18, 1964, in the presence of bishops from all over the world who had gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council by Pope Paul VI.
June 3 has become central to the Uganda Christian calendar and is usually marked with prayers and thanksgiving. Last year, the Catholic Church unveiled plans to extend the significance of the Martyrs Day to more than the June 3 and its traditional values to a land mark tourism site.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, also the chairperson of the steering committee mobilisiing funds to revamp the site and construct a multi-billion museum, says the site currently accommodates and attracts up to 1 million pilgrims every June 3, yet if they are redeveloped, this capacity could be increased.
Speaking at a fundraising dinner held late last month, Mbabazi said the redevelopment was a two way benefit—to accommodate swelling numbers and to attract more tourists to the sites, away from the Martyrs celebrations. This will include redevelopment of the shrines both at Namugongo and Munyonyo.
“Tourism has become a social –economic phenomenon which has not been harnessed in Uganda,” he noted, adding that countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Italy, which are home to some of the famous faith locations, are already raking in millions annually from “faith-based tourism.”
He, however, stressed this would only be possible once the site is organised and redeveloped to appeal more even to “people hearing about it for the first time.”
To this effect, redevelopment of the project will be executed in phases, depending on how much money is raised. The first phase was launched last month with Shs17 billion raised through contributions from well-wishers, bank account holders, Contributions from telecom companies and collections from Church-founded institutions like schools.
About The current shrine
Construction of the current shrine in Namugongo started in 1967 and was completed in 1975 under the stewardship of former Archbishop of Kampala Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga (RIP). When Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1993, he elevated the site to a minor Basilica something which the Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, said raised its global status.
The current status of the Namugongo Shrines, Archdiocese Lwanga says, mirrors what Uganda looks like, which calls for this image to be improved.
The same pope honoured the Martyrs with a pilgrimage in 1969- the first visit ever by a pope to the African Continent
The new Martyrs shrine project
Capacity. According to the project designs, a 1,000 seater church will be constructed, three pavilions, a 100 car parking lot, dormitories, museum, a gallery, offices, an ultra-sized walkway, among others.
Cost. The entire project is expected cost $14 million (Shs36 billion) but as of last month when the fundraising campaign was launched, only Shs1.96 billion had been collected in both cash and pledges.
Fundraising. Archbishop Lwanga, Mr Mbabazi, Bank of Uganda Governor Emmanuel Mutebile, and Centenary Bank managing director Fabian Kasi, form the steering committee, which is pushing the fundraising campaign. A total of Shs520 million was collected last year with more collections expected before the year ends to pave way for the project redevelopment to start next year.
President Museveni, on behalf of government gave the project Shs400 million. However, more cash collections are expected from the government departments.
Celebrations. The Catholic Church on October 18 is expected to mark the Golden Jubilee celebrations since the Martyrs were canonised a gala on which the Current Pope Francis had been invited to officiate the start of the project redevelopment but it was confirmed later that he would not attend. Archibishop Lwanga, however, stated that the invitation of the Pope is still on.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor