June 3, is Uganda Martyrs Day and for Christians, this is a period of self-reflection and celebration.
It is a day when thousands of local and international Christian pilgrims converge at Namugongo martyrs shrines to commemorate the death of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity who were executed between November 1885 and January 1887.
Because it is such a big occasion, it has over the years superseded its religious significance to encompass other social and economic aspects. For decades, business people living near the shrines and from other parts of the country have thrived off this day, selling all sorts of merchandise to the pilgrims.
Now the business is going a notch higher as the government and the respective religious institutions (Anglican and Catholic churches) seek to harness the tourism potential of the shrines. Last week, the Anglican Church unveiled a multi-billion project that will see part of the Anglican Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo turned into a museum.
The museum, whose construction is expected to kick off early next year, is intended to showcase the country’s rich cultural and religious history. This comes at a time the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has introduced the Martyrs Trail in an effort to promote “religious pilgrimage tourism.”
With the UTB innovation, tourists or pilgrims will now be able to follow in the footsteps of the martyrs. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church announced plans in February to construct a three-star hotel at the Namugongo Catholic shrine. The planned structure, to cost an estimated Shs 2.5bn, will have at least 75 self-contained rooms, a modern library and a conference hall.
If all these projects come to fruition, and we pray they will, the shrines will have added to Uganda’s portfolio of tourist attractions and consequently a good source of revenue for the country and the institutions involved.
We would then follow in the footsteps of countries such as Israel (holy land), Italy (Rome), Saudi Arabia (Muslim pilgrimage), Egypt (pyramids) and Turkey (Blue Mosque), among others, which have long recognised and tapped their rich cultural and religious heritage.