“Send the away,” a police commander ordered junior field force unit (FFU) officers who swiftly moved to push back scores of pilgrims who had crowded outside the main gate of the Catholic Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo.
By 8:00 am, some few hundred Christians had arrived at Namugongo – a sharp contrast in the numbers that thronged the shrines in the pre-Covid19 times.
Access to the shrines was strictly by invitation, the only way organisers could ensure adherence to the COVID-19 standard operating procedures.
At least 500 pilgrims including the clergy physically attended the Martyrs day mass, celebrated in remembrance of 45 young Christian converts who were brutally murdered by the late Buganda king, Ssekabaka Mwanga Basammula between 1885 and 1887 because of their allegiance to Christianity.
Pope Benedict XV beatified the Martyrs in 1920. They were later canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964 at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome becoming the first-ever black saints from sub-Saharan Africa to be canonized.
Maria Tushabe traveled from Mukono on Wednesday and spent a night at a motel near the shrines with a hope that she would be let in if she arrived early enough.
“When the church said that the mass would be limited to 200 people, I thought it was going to be on a first come first serve basis,” Tushabe said.
Being that her home diocese of Masaka was leading this year’s celebrations, Barbra Nalumansi thought it would offer an open opportunity. But the security personnel manning the main gate did not listen to story of being Masaka.
“I was surprised when security said that only invited people would be allowed in. When did the church start giving invitation cards for prayers? Mass should be first come, first serve basis,” she lamented as the security officer chased her from the entrance.
She questioned the logic in limiting the gathering to only 200 people yet the place is so spacious yet a few weeks ago, over 5,000 people were allowed at Kololo independence grounds to witness President Yoweri Museveni’s inauguration.