Martyrs' Day

First published 19th July 2011


On visits to Uganda, I find that I can give as much energy as required if I can have a rest day now and again. Such a day was planned for June 3rd. I arrived back in Kampala the afternoon before, and booked into a hotel where I could relax and wash some clothes. At that evening I received a call on my mobile phone telling me to go to Namirembe where there was someone who wanted to see me. I took a taxi for the 20 minute journey and was greeted at my destination by Alphonse, Bishop of Nebbi, and Patrick who the following Sunday was to be consecrated Bishop of N. Kigezi. It was a happy reunion, but before our conversation had gone very far I realise that my plans for a rest day were about to disappear. Alphonse told me that I should accompany him to the celebration at the Martyrs Memorial in Namogongo the following day. It was an occasion not to be missed!

I arranged for a lift the next day and so we set off through quiet roads as the day is a public holiday marking the death of the Christian Martyrs in the 19th century. But as we neared Namugongo the roads became choked with traffic and people walking towards the shrine.

Unfortunately Alphonse had left his Bishops pass with a friend so about two miles from the shrine we had to find parking with someone letting space in his garden. Then we set off, accompanied by our taxi driver, a Roman Catholic who was keen to be our guide.

What a celebration! The road was lined with stalls selling religious and secular mementoes. The whole world seemed to be in good humour, and the road seemed very, very long. In the end I found a boda boda (motor bike taxi) to take me the last mile.

The space around the shrine was packed with thousands waiting for the service, presided over by Archbishop Henry. Bishop Alphonse persuaded the organisers to let me have a seat next to him, reserved for a spouse. I found myself sitting behind the Archbishop. This had two problems. Firstly I was not dressed for the occasion among all the bishops in their episcopal robes; secondly the service was being videod with frequent focus on the archbishop so I had to make sure I looked alert and interested as the 4 hour service progressed. A sleeping mzungo on camera would not have enhanced my reputation with our Ugandan friends.

Then came the rain! I was sitting just outside the awning, and began to feel uncomfortably wet.

The service was abandoned and we took shelter with the VIPs in the church. Fortunately this meant that we missed the speeches by the local dignitaries. We then made our way to the house of the Principal of the theological college for lunch, meeting there some of the Nebbi ordinands.

They accompanied us back on the long and busy muddy walk back to the main road. By now this side road was filled with minibus taxis as well as people. Dodging wing mirrors as they sped by became a regular occupation. The stalls were doing well everyone was in a holiday mood. A Ugandan equivalent to a bank holiday celebration.

As we talked to our Roman Catholic taxi driver he showed great surprise at the staying power of Anglicans. What had amazed him most was the length of our four hour service. He declared that the Catholics manage to celebrate this important memorial with a Mass and a few prayers lasting about and hour.

Perhaps I shall become a Roman Catholic when I remember the Martyrs in future!

Stuart Taylor                                                                                     July 2011

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