Fort Portal pilgrims mourn the death of their colleague Theresa Benta who collapsed and died during offertory at Namugongo Catholic shrine.

Dr Dan Kyamanywa, the Kibaale District Health Officer (DHO), who was also the coordinator for the health committee for this year’s Martyrs Day celebrations, said the deceased aged 80 had stood up to give her offertory before she collapsed and died instantly.

Dr Kyamanywa said Benta’s body was taken to the city morgue and asked Christians to pray for her soul.

“We send our condolences to the relatives of the deceased and the entire Fort Portal Christian community. As Christians we should pray for her soul,” Dr Kyamanywa said.

The medical team at Namugongo gave treatment to more than 20,000 pilgrims who according to Dr Kyamanywa suffered from malaria and body fatigue since they had trekked hundreds of kilometers.

At least 15 pilgrims were rushed to the different hospitals in critical condition. Dr Kyamanywa said the pilgrims had complicated conditions that needed urgent attention.

Police by close of business had arrested more than 200 people over offenses related to theft and public nuisance. Mr Frank Mwesigwa, Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, said over 60 cases of phone theft and 12 cases of missing children were recorded.

At least three million pilgrims are estimated to have graced this year’s martyr’s celebrations.

The Uganda Martyrs Day celebration usually attracts millions of enthusiastic pilgrims from across the world. The majority of these pilgrims often come to the shrine on foot as a demonstration of their faith. Others, use various means of transport to reach Namugongo shrine.

Last year, Tanzania had the largest contingent of registered pilgrims (4,961) from the East African Community member countries besides hosts Uganda. Kenya had at least 4,000 registered pilgrims while 800 came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 300 from Rwanda, 712 from Burundi, and 105 from South Sudan. Other international Pilgrims also came from the United States of America (7), Nigeria (117), Mexico (4), Malawi (100), Italy, Zambia, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Ireland, United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada.

The annual celebration commemorates the heroic faith of the 45 Martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, who were burnt to death on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda between 1885 and 1887. Twenty-two Catholic Martyrs were beatified on 6 June 1920, by Pope Benedict XV and on 18 October 1964, Pope Paul VI canonised them Saints.

In addition to the Catholic Martyrs, there are two Catechists from Paimol: Blessed Daudi Okello and Blessed Jildo Irwa who were killed in 1918 and were beatified by John Paul II on October 20, 2002.

Meanwhile, the Catholic faithful across Uganda on Friday concluded a novena to the Uganda Martyrs. The nine-days of prayer started on Thursday, 25 May.

Hundreds of pilgrims also participated in the second ‘Walk of Faith pilgrimage’ which took place on Saturday 27 May. The ‘Walk of Faith’ pilgrimage was introduced in 2016 as part of the Uganda Martyrs celebrations. The walk started from Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine to St. Matia Mulumba Parish in Old Kampala, where St. Matia Mulumba (one of the Catholic martyrs) was killed.

Uganda’s Diocese of Hoima animated  the 2017 Uganda Martyrs Day celebration under the theme, “Stand Firm in Faith That We Have Been Taught” (Colossians 2:7). A total budget of US$ 166,064 (Ugandan Shillings 597million) had been allocated for the preparation of this year’s event.

 

Speaking during Mass, the Bishop invited the faithful to be faithful witnesses to the message of Christ just as the martyrs were.

“The Uganda Martyrs were ordinary people with admirable human qualities … because of these qualities the were leaders at the Kabaka’s palace,” the Bishop said. He told the faithful that there is documented evidence that as Catechumens, the martyrs would sometimes forgo sleep at night to go the house of the White Father Missionaries to learn the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Bishop also announced that documents for the beatification of the White Father missionaries, that is Fr. ‘Mapeera’ Lourdel and Brother Amans who ministered to the Uganda Martyrs had been submitted to the Vatican.

The country’s Vice President Edward Ssekandi is the guest of honour.

Uganda’s Martyrs Day, which falls on June 3, every year commemorates the heroic faith of the 45 Martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, who were burnt to death on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda between 1885 and 1887.

Twenty-two Catholic Martyrs were beatified on 6 June 1920, by Pope Benedict XV, and on 18 October 1964, Pope Paul VI canonised them as Saints.