The Uganda Martyrs Day is celebrated annually every 3rd June, in commemoration of the converts of faith at the Namugongo Martyrs Shrines. The Uganda Martyrs were a group of twenty-three (23) Anglican, twenty-two (22) Roman Catholic and over one hundred Muslims converts to Christianity and Islam who were executed between November 1885 and January 1887 on orders of Ssekabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda due to their religious beliefs, at Namugongo, the main execution site. The Uganda Martyrs have great significance to Christians around the world.
On 6th June, 1920, Pope Benedict XV beatified the Uganda Martyrs. The martyrs were canonized and elevated to sainthood by Pope Paul VI on October 18, 1964. The same Pope honoured the Martyrs with a pilgrimage on 31st July to 2nd August 1969: the first visit ever by a Pope to the African Continent. Pope Francis celebrated mass at the Basilica in 2014 to commemorate 50 years of sainthood for the Uganda Martyrs.
The honour to the Uganda Martyrs elsewhere in Africa shows their importance; for instance in Senegal, a church built in 1890 contains relics of the martyrs, and there are several churches dedicated to St. Kizito, the youngest of the martyrs.
The event attracts over two million visitors from all around the world, including countries like Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and the DRC, as well as European countries and the Americas. Some pilgrims walk from their countries to Namugongo and others come early enough to participate in the planned festivals and pray the novena.
The Government has made significant improvements at Namugongo, including renovations of the basilica, sitting areas, water and power services, roads, and construction of the joint security base on the site. Government is also committed to setting aside the month of May every year to boost activities in remembrance of the martyrs. We want our friends from all over the world to not only come on 3rd June, but to arrive a month before and visit the birth places of these martyrs. We also have plans to promote our holy sites for visits after 3rd June, so that faith-based tourists can visit Uganda throughout the year.
The Muslim main celebrations will be held on 1st, June, 2017, and will carry on for three days ending on 3rd June, 2017.
This year, Hoima Diocese will lead the celebrations for the Roman Catholic Shrine. The Holy Mass will start at 9:30am on 3rd June. In preparation for the day, several activities have taken place, including a press conference, and a Namugongo walk in the districts of Kiyandongo, Buliisa, Kibaale, Kagadi, Kakumiro where Christians walked to celebrate the martyrs.
On 27th May, 2017 there will be a Martyrs Walk with the theme, “Walking in the Footsteps of the Martyrs”, starting at Munyonyo shrines at 9:00am and ending at Old Kampala. The Bishop of Hoima will be the Chief Walker, with the Prime Minister of Uganda as Guest of Honour.
Namirembe Diocese will be leading the celebrations at the Anglican Shrine. The Church of Uganda Martyrs celebrations will be weeklong, starting on 27th May with the Children’s Outreach. On 28th May there will be the Namugongo Parish Day, followed by the Youth Outreach on 29th May. The Mission Crusade will take place from 29th May to 2nd June, and there will also be the Martyrs Church Ministries Retreat on 30th May. Other activities include Family Ministry on 31st May, and a Health Camp from 31st May to 2nd June, 2017.
The significance of faith-based tourism
Faith-Based tourism is travel to religious sites to experience religious forms or to learn and admire their related arts, architecture, food and other traditions.
The faith-based travel market is growing fast as more destinations and suppliers work with religious organisations to create new products. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that approximately 330 million tourists visit the world’s key religious sites every year and spend about US$18 billion.
The world’s largest form of mass religious tourism takes place at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which receives 12 million visitors per year, and this figure is expected to rise to 17 million by 2025.
I thank all Ugandans who have embraced faith-based tourism, and I encourage you all to take part in these activities leading up to the Uganda Martyrs Day. I also urge you to invite as many people as possible to experience Uganda’s holy sites.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY
Hon. Godfrey Kiwanda Ssuubi (MP)