The number of pilgrims arriving at both the Anglican and Catholic Martyrs shrines is still relatively low compared to the previous events prior to the COVID-19 pandemic breaking out in the country.
Previously, by this time, the shrines- majorly on the Catholic side- could be filled with crowds of people from all walks of life.
Our reporters have observed that nearly all open spaces and pavilions are nearly empty.
By Tuesday afternoon, records from the pilgrim’s registration desk at the Catholic shrines indicated that only 900 pilgrims had arrived.
One of the people registering the new arrivals noted that this is a very low figure compared to the numbers they would register three days to the D-Day in the previous years when pilgrims could arrive in their thousands.
“On such a day we could be restless and increasing registration tables. But look around they are arriving in small groups of twenty. The largest group we registered today comprises 252 people from Tororo,” the lady only identified as Betty told our reporter.
Rev Fr Joseph Mukasa Muwonge, the promoter of the cause of Uganda martyrs who is also part of the liturgy organizing committee, also made a similar observation.
He noted that they expected numbers to soar given the fact that people had spent two years without paying homage to the martyrs.
He is, however, optimistic that numbers might swell in the last two days based on the reports they are receiving from different dioceses.
Rev Fr Vincent Lubega, the parish priest in charge of Namugongo Catholic shrines, noted that the low numbers could be blamed on the hiked commodity prices and transport fares.
“For a person to embark on a pilgrimage, he or she first prepares money to eat on the way and also prepare transport for their return journey. In such hard economic situations. Many people might have given up on walking to Namugongo this year,” he said.
He, however, noted that there is a possibility that some groups decided to leave late to shorten the number of days they would spend on the way as another way of managing resources.
Amid the low numbers of pilgrims, security has been heightened at all entrances and exit avenues at Catholic and Anglican shrines.
At about a quarter to 1 pm on Tuesday, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Maj Gen Katsigazi Tumusiime, accompanied by police director of operations, Edward Ochom, Director of crime intelligence, Brig Gen Chris Damulira, KMP police commander Stephen Tanui, and Counter-Terrorism Acting director, Wilson Omoding arrived at Catholic shrines.
He was moved around interacting with commanders of the teams manning the entrance and exit avenues. Gen Tumusiime would ask each commander at the entrance or exit to explain how he or she is prepared to handle the anticipated number of pilgrims.
At the major exit and entrance points, four walk-through metal detectors have been erected.
In addition, able-bodied female and male security personnel from the elite security forces comprising the Counter-Terrorism, Special Forces Command, and the Presidential Protection units are strategically deployed at the exit and entrance points.
Gen Tumusiime later walked in the company of other commanders to the Anglican shrines amidst heavy deployment.
Traffic flow was stopped for about 10 minutes as Gen Tumusiime assessed the security situation at the two shrines.
Thousands of pilgrims from within and outside Uganda annually descend on Namugongo, the site where the majority of the converts were martyred in celebration of their bravery on June 3rd.
In 2020, the government canceled the celebrations while in 2021 the church organized a low-key event with a limited number of Christians invited due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic.