Every year thousands and thousands of people walk to Kampala, Uganda to pay their respects on this holiday.
Each year, up to a million people come to Kampala on Martyr’s day, sometimes walking from other countries like South Sudan, Tanzania, and Kenya. Walking such a distance can take days, weeks, or even months. And in Kampala (right near where ILP volunteers are living), a massive holiday unfolds that you can be a part of!
Really experience Africa
Volunteering in Uganda
A quick visit to Africa probably means a few day on safari then flying back home, but the chance to volunteer in Uganda gives you so much more. Living here for a few months means delving into this country’s culture and adventures, plus uncovering the traditions the local culture, like this incredible pilgrimage.
What Martyr’s Day Remembers
It’s a way to remember 22 Catholics who were killed in the 1800’s, due to the rulings of the then current king of Uganda, Kabaka Mwanga II. There was a huge political and religious struggle for power during the time, which helped to provoke the murder of several Christian missionaries once Mwanga assumed the throne. Some were burned at the stake, others left for wild animals, and some were tortured.
Martyr’s day is officially celebrated June 3rd of every year — 20 of the 22 martyrs were killed between May 26th, 1886 and June 3rd, 1886, so this date holds a special place in history.
Why Do People Walk?
Many believers walk as a sign of respect to the martyrs who gave their lives, it’s also a way to give thanks for the martyrs who have helped answer the prayers of those who believe. Those killed were canonized into sainthood and many believe praying to these specific saints can help heal them from physical injuries. Especially those who have been healed, walking all the way to Kampala is a way to show their gratitude for those miracles and the sacrifice of the saints.
Celebrations In Kampala
Even if you’re not walking hundreds of miles as pilgrimage to the site, you can still participate in the celebrations! Some years, the Uganda Tourism Board has organized a charity walk along some of the landmarks of the martyrs’ deaths, as a fundraiser for various causes — last year, the walk was a fundraiser for children with heart disease. This Facebook page keeps everyone up to date about the coming Martyr’s day.
You’ll also find huge crowds and loads of vendors supporting those crowds all around Kampala; giant markets selling drinks, snacks, food, and supplies to the pilgrims and visitors here for the holiday. It’s a gigantic celebration with thousands and thousands of people trekking in from all over to pay their respects. What an incredible thing to be a part of!
Visiting The Martyrs' Shrine
Built on the site where some martyrs were killed, the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is now a beautifully peaceful and uniquely built church. On June 3rd, millions of visitors come to the shrine itself to see the site of the martyrdom and to participate in church services, but you can visit the shrine year round. It’s a gorgeous and uniquely constructed church, with a solemn feeling and green grounds complete with a man-made lake.
Around the holiday there will be more elaborate services to help commemorate the memories of those killed here, but a visit any other time of year is quiet, peaceful, and a beautiful place to remember those who gave their lives for their religion.
Address: Naalya-Namugongo Rd, Kampala, Uganda
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Come volunteer in Uganda with ILP! Volunteers spend their time teaching English at local schools, plus have weekends and vacation time. We're here to make it all happen!