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“National re-awakening of devotion to Uganda Martyrs” Underway for June 3 Annual Event

A plaque containing the names of the 22 Uganda Martyrs honored on June 3. In addition to these, two more, Blessed Jildo Irwa and Blessed Daudi Okello, beatified in 2002 are honored on October 20

Uganda’s diocese of Masaka has, in a press statement, provided updates about preparations for this year’s Uganda Martyrs Day celebration, highlighting activities around fostering devotion to the Catholic martyrs of the East African country, honoring the martyrs with the symbolic gesture of planting trees, explaining the theme and logo of the annual event, among other planned activities.

The Ugandan diocese is overseeing the preparations of this year’s celebration, including resource mobilization to facilitate the implementation of the various activities before, during and after June 3.

“We called for massive national re-awakening of the devotion to Uganda Martyrs,” the Bishop of Masaka, Serverus Jjumba has stated in his February 27 statement and highlighted five activities that were undertaken last June to foster the devotion.

The activities include recitation of prayers and litanies of the Uganda Martyrs at the end of every liturgical function “especially the Mass” and a votive Mass to the martyrs every Tuesday.

The 57-year-old Prelate also revealed that “each Sunday from 29th December 2019 up to 29th May 2020 was assigned a Martyr to be reflected upon and the programme was sent to all the 19 dioceses in Uganda.”

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To familiarize themselves with the martyrs, Bishop Jjumba confirmed that Catholics from the diocese have made “special pilgrimages” to the birthplaces of Bruno Sserunkuuma and Minziiro-Kakuuto, two martyrs born within Masaka diocese.

To mark the end of the year-long devotion that started on June 3, 2019, the Bishop has stated that Christians will pray the Uganda Martyrs Novenas from May 25 to June 2.

The climax will be marked in two separate days, May 29 for the pupils and students in schools and June 3 for the adults, a move the Ugandan Prelate has said is “born out of the concern for the children in and out of school so as to give them a chance to participate fully and actively.”

“Due to increased attendance on 3rd June, it was recognized that pupils and students hardly attended the event,” Bishop Jjumba noted in the statement and added, “The Uganda Episcopal Conference has always desired to decongest 3rd June. This could be one of the ways and Masaka is to pioneer it on the 29th of May.”

To mitigate the impact that the celebrations will have on the environment, the Bishop stated  in the February 27 statement that in remembrance of the 24 Ugandan martyrs, “pilgrims on foot will plant 24 trees in every parish where they rest,” a move that heeds to Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home in his Encyclical Letter, Laudato si’.

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As an ecological memory of the martyrs, the Bishop revealed that at the close of the celebrations at Namugongo, “each diocese will be given a tree to plant as a memory of the martyrs’ day of 2020 and a permanent reminder of planting trees and protecting our environment.”

Further, Bishop Jjumba reminded each pilgrim “to avoid polythene pollution wherever they will pass, rest and celebrate the Uganda Martyrs day,” a directive that has come a month after he  banned the use of polythene bags to wrap Church offertory, terming them as “dangerous.”

Ahead of the Martyrs Day celebrations last year, the President of the Uganda Catholic Episcopal Conference, Bishop Joseph Anthony Zziwa announced the collective decision of the Bishops to ban plastic bags or “kaveera” as locally known, in the martyrs’ shrine, “to protect the environment and humanity from the harmful effects of polythene bags.”

The logo for this year’s celebration, which is being “copy-righted under Masaka Diocese” has an image of the 24 martyrs holding branches, a component the Bishop said is “a sign of Victory gazing at the Crucified Christ.”

An image of the Crucified Christ is a reminder that “through his suffering, death and resurrection, he won for us a new life by the Cross,” the Bishops explained in his statement.

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Color red on the logo, the Bishops states, symbolizes “martyrdom and victory through the shedding of blood,” while the colors of the Uganda National flag represent “the nationality of the Martyrs.”

The theme of the day, “Do Not Lose Heart (2 Corinthians 4:1-18)” is also inscribed on the logo, with Bishop Jjumba saying, “Challenged, inspired, supported and interceded for by the Uganda Martyrs’ faith, heroism and courage; we must remain steadfast in faith.”

To facilitate the celebrations, the Bishop of Masaka revealed that the diocese requires 950 Million Uganda Shillings (US$258,433), which will be used to cater for the days’ logistics including the welfare of the two choirs that will animate the Holy Mass, preparation for the Solemn Liturgy among other activities.

To realize the budget, the Prelate revealed that the diocese has already started mobilizing funds from parishes and institutions as well as reaching out to “individuals of good will, corporate companies, other dioceses and the Government of the Republic of Uganda.”

Bishop Jjumba thanked the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) for giving Masaka Diocese the opportunity to oversee the animation of the annual celebrations and the Government of Uganda and its various organs for all the support so far, “especially the security agencies that have always ensured the security of persons and property.”

Martyrs’ Day, a national public holiday in Uganda commemorates the 22 Catholics killed alongside their 23 Anglican counterparts on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda Kingdom between 1885 and 1887.

There are also two Ugandan martyrs of a later period, who died at Paimol in Uganda’s Lira diocese in October 1918. They include Daudi Okello and Jildo Irwa. Pope St. John Paul II beatified the duo in 2002.

“Our Bishops decided that all the 24 be recognized on June 3. The other two, Blessed Jildo Irwa and Blessed Daudi Okello are however honored on October 20 as per the Ordo,” Fr. Philip Odii, the Executive Secretary of Social Communications of UEC told ACI Africa Friday, February 28.

St. Charles Lwanga and his 21 companions were beatified on June 6, 1920 by Pope Benedict XV and canonized on Mission Sunday, October 18, 1964 by Pope St. Paul VI at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

Five years after the canonization of the 22 martyrs, Pope St. Paul VI became the first Roman Pontiff to visit sub-Saharan Africa when he visited Uganda, a visit that took him to Namugongo Shrine, the site of the martyrdom as well as the establishment of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).