Catholic Church calls off 2020 Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations

Martyrs' Day is a national public holiday in Uganda on 3rd June. The day commemorates the 45 martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, who were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda between 1885 and 1887.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The 2020 Catholic Uganda Martyrs Day feast slated for May 29th for the youth and June 3 for the rest has been called off due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For the first time in many years, the annual catholic Uganda Martyrs Day feast will not occur as COVID-19 has affected preparation plans, movement of pilgrims and stringent restrictions on public gatherings.

Masaka Diocese which had been chosen by the Uganda Episcopal Conference to organize the first-ever double celebration of the feast on May 29 for youths and June 3 for the rest of the pilgrims has officially communicated to the Bishops’ Conference about the development.

Rev Fr. Ronald Mayanja, the Masaka Diocesan communications director says the although at first they thought that the lockdown could be lifted but because the situation is not yet back to normal, they decided to call off the celebrations.

Rev Fr. Mayanja however notes that the diocese remains ready to organize for the next feast day if at all it reaches when the battle against the virus has been handled.

Thousands converge at Namugongo for Martyrs Day
Pilgrims at the Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo

Masaka diocese had already raised over 300 million shillings in cash towards the preparation which required a total of 950 million shillings. Rev. Fr Mayanja says although the feast has been postponed, they have not dissolved the standing organizing committees.

In a letter addressed to all members of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Bishop Joseph Anthony Zziwa, the conference’s chairperson re-echos the need to postpone the feast as the right decision given the prevailing circumstance which has made worship and celebration of the Eucharist, sacraments and other liturgical-pastoral activities very difficult.

“The position of Masaka Diocese should be understood in light of the fact that organizing the celebrations requires frequent meetings. It demands unfettered movement of persons. Above all, with the virus still alive in many countries including Uganda, it is not certain when restrictions on gatherings and movements will be lifted,”observed Bishop Zziwa.

He further argued that even if the government of Uganda lifts the ban today, there would not be enough time to prepare for the feast thus appealing to episcopal conference members to understand the situation and accept to postpone Uganda Martyrs Day. He notes that on a later date the conference will come up with another arrangement.

Meanwhile, the Church of Uganda which also marks the day has not come up with a decision regarding the same. Sadiki Adams, the Communications Officer at the church of Uganda Provincial Secretariat says that the top leadership of the church is still studying the situation.

The annual celebration was set aside in honor of the martyrdom of 45 young men who converted to Christianity between 1885 and 1887 to the annoyance of the then Kabaka Mwanga II of Buganda, who ordered that they are burnt to death. Millions of pilgrims from within and outside Uganda descend to Namugongo the site where the majority of the converts were martyred in celebration of their bravery.

Read Also: Appointment of bishop Lambert Bainomugisha excites clergy, Christians

The Martyrs Day feast is not the first religions feast to be affected, this year Christians across the world observed Easter celebrations from their homes due to the changed mode of prayer in the wake of COVID-19, with all denominations bending the rules, rituals and patterns of praying.

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised several countries to close public places like schools and places of worship among others as a precautionary measure to avoid spread of the virus.