Ugandan Diocese Sets Safety Protocols for Martyrs’ Day Pilgrimage: Over a Million Expected

Section of Namugongo Shrine in Uganda’s Kampala Archdiocese. Credit: Fr. Don Bosco Onyalla

The Catholic Diocese of Jinja in Uganda is in “very high gear” preparing for one of the world’s largest religious gatherings – the annual June 3 Martyrs’ Day Pilgrimage – by implementing safety protocols, training local medical response teams, and preparing for the expansive liturgical celebrations for the pilgrims who will number over one million, according to the Vicar General of the Diocese.

“We are expecting pilgrims in large numbers from local countries such Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and also from Nigeria,” Fr. Paul Musana told ACI Africa in an interview about the event that takes place at Namugongo Shrine in Uganda’s Kampala Archdiocese.

The number of pilgrims expected at Namugongo, Fr. Musana said during the Wednesday, May 3 interview, “is a little hard to estimate but generally we don’t go below a million. Now that this time there are no COVID-19 restrictions, there is freedom of entry and the number of attendees is expected to be very high.”

The Vicar General of Jinja Diocese said that national leaders in some East African nations such as Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Sudan are also expected to join Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni during the event.

He said that officials of the  Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) are facilitating the participation of international pilgrims, including the processing of travel documents.


Martyrs’ Day Pilgrimage

The Uganda Martyrs’ Day dates back to the first decade of Christian presence in the East African nation when 45 men aged between 14 to 50 years were killed because of their faith by the King of Buganda between 31 January 1885 and 27 January 1887.

Among the 45 were 22 Catholics beatified in 1920 and canonized in 1964 who continue to promote Catholic life in the country and also play an important role in constructing a Catholic identity globally.

Namugongo shrine is one of the popular sites on the Northeast edge of the Kampala Metropolitan See that hosts a modernist basilica church whose altar is above the place where the martyrs' pyre is believed to have been.

The Shrine is a large property covering the site where St. Charles Lwanga and his companions who included pages at the royal court, were burned alive by the order of Kabaka (King) Mwanga II of the Buganda kingdom.

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In the May 3 interview, the Vicar General of Jinja Diocese who doubles as the Diocesan Social Communications Coordinator said that the pilgrims are set to arrive on June 1 and that there will be a Eucharistic celebration to welcome them.

There will be an evening Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph of Jinja Diocese on June 2 “to pray and push for the Canonization of former President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere,” who was declared a servant of God in May 2005, Fr. Musana told ACI Africa.

He said that Local Priests from Jinja Diocese and also other Dioceses in the East African nation will be available in Namugongo to counsel and also offer confession to those who will arrive ahead of the June 3 celebration.

Security and health precautions

Asked about the security of pilgrims, Fr. Musana said that the government is very much involved, and that there will be “serious security scrutiny before entry.”


“We expect about 400 Very Important Persons (VIPs) to pack inside and they will be provided with tags,” he said.

Regarding health, “there will be timely ambulances and the health service providers have been rehearsing and continue to rehearse ahead of the material day,” the Ugandan Catholic Priest said, and acknowledged the collaboration between the Commission for Health in Jinja Diocese and the Red Cross.

“There will be timely ambulances and the health service providers have been rehearsing and continue to rehearse ahead of the material day,” he said.

Services available for pilgrims

The Vicar General also shared about plans for accommodation and feeding, noting that facilities of Catholic schools around Namugongo Shrine are to be used.

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On plans for the media, he said, “We have planned for special media outlets such as Uganda Television Network in which all the information will be disseminated both in and outside the country,”

He said that power generators have been organized in the event that there is power failure, adding that there is also Public Address System, to enhance audio transmission.

On liturgy, “we are working with Kampala Archdiocese to ensure that we balance up whatever is needed,” he said, adding that “rehearsals for the choir Master of Ceremonies and other liturgical practices have been going on since November last year.”

Translation services will be provided, as well as the use of “sign language to accommodate the deaf,” he further said.

Budget for the pilgrimage

Asked about the budget for the day, Fr. Musana said that realizing the estimated 2.2 billion Ugandan Shillings ($590,922.00) has remained one of the challenges in organizing the for June 3 pilgrimage. 

“Many have promised and (are) yet to deliver,” he told ACI Africa during the May 3 interview, adding that the organizing committee is yet to realize 50 percent of the required funds.

“Last year, the government gave one Billion and we are hoping for the same this year,” the Vicar General of Jinja Diocese said.

Silas Mwale Isenjia is a Kenyan journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communication from Moi University in Kenya. Silas has vast experience in the Media production industry. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.