When Kampala Archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga travelled to Rome in 2013, he met the superior general of the Franciscans – one of the religious congregations in the Catholic Church.
The archbishop’s wish was for the Franciscans to establish their presence in Uganda. In October that year, Rev Fr Marian Golab aka Kajubi, led six other Franciscan priests to Uganda who were later assigned to Kakooge Catholic parish in Kasana-Luweero diocese, Matugga Catholic parish and Munyonyo sub-parish in Kamapala archdiocese.
Of all these places, the Franciscans were fascinated with the history of Munyonyo and the Uganda martyrs. It is here on May 26, 1886, that Kabaka Mwanga decreed the killing of the 22 Catholic martyrs (and 23 Anglicans) at Namugongo, but three of them, Denis Ssebuggwaawo, Andrew Kaggwa and Pontiano Ngondwe, were killed and buried at Munyonyo.
Munyonyo’s rich history in the church inspired Fr Golab to moot an idea of redeveloping the place from a small shrine that cannot accommodate more than 10 worshippers to something big and worth the name that Munyonyo is in the Catholic Church.
“Besides the shrine, we also intend to have an amphitheatre, a retreat house, a pastoral centre and the Franciscan formation house,” Fr Golab told The Observer on May 3. These will cost about Shs 2bn.
Last Sunday, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Michael Augustine Blume, and Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala launched a drive to raise Shs 5bn for the redevelopment project of Munyonyo martyrs’ shrine. It sits on a 10-acre piece of land that required the church to engage in court battles to get off squatters that had curtailed earlier efforts to redevelop it.
“I have previously been coming here to that small chapel, and it had never crossed my mind that such a beautiful plan for transforming this place would ever come up,” said Cardinal Wamala.
Munyonyo’s redevelopment is going to move hand in hand with the expansion of the Namugongo martyrs’ shrine, according to Msgr Charles Kasibante, the vicar general of Kampala archdiocese.
To achieve their desired goal, the church is looking at the Shs 1,000 monthly contribution expected from each of the Catholics in the archdiocese.
“The martyrs sowed the seed of faith, their faith sank within us. It is for us to devote our faith to the Uganda martyrs because they are our ancestors in the faith,” Kasibante said.
This October, the Church will belatedly celebrate the golden jubilee for the canonization of the Uganda martyrs, but what is worrying for the church leaders is that Ugandans are not so much devoted to the martyrs as is the case elsewhere.
“Much as we share a lot with them – we share blood with them, clans and the nation – Uganda is not so devoted to [the martyrs] like it is in other countries. We need to reflect on their lives and pray for their intercession,” Msgr Kasibante said.
Hundreds of pilgrims from other countries make the trip to Uganda to commemorate the martyrs every June 3. By their canonization on October 18, 1964, the martyrs became saints who, according to the Catholic Church’s teachings, can intercede for anyone who prays to God through them.
While celebrating mass that preceded the ground-breaking ceremony for the Shs 3bn shrine at Munyonyo, Blume said because of the martyrs, Uganda was given a unique place in the Church.
“Uganda has a unique place of remembrance in the church because of the Uganda martyrs. Uganda has given to the church a special gift that started here at Munyonyo and ended at Namugongo,” the Papal Nuncio said.
To Fr Golab, Catholics need not only reflect on the 22 Catholics, among the Uganda martyrs, but also the 23 Anglicans.
“They didn’t die for their different denominations, but for Christ. They were jailed together, judged together, killed together and buried in one grave; that gives us an important message that we should be one,” he said.