The first batch of foot pilgrims has reached Namugongo after a 400 km journey from Bushenyi to pay homage to Uganda martyrs.
Led by Bernardo Tibyangye, a renowned pilgrim aged 95 years old, the pilgrims comprising of 25 members, including two men and a couple of children, have consistently been the earliest to reach Namugongo in previous years.
However, the journey they undertook this year will be etched in their memories due to the unexpectedly long and somewhat demanding route they had to take, which some found to be unacceptable.
Helen Kamasanyu, the female leader of the group, notes that this year they began their journey earlier than usual due to their anticipation of delays caused by the ongoing rain in the central and western regions.
“When it rains, it takes more time to travel and there are instances when it rains continuously. Additionally, we prefer not to walk in the rain and a rainy day means more days on the journey. That is why we decided to start our journey earlier,” Kamasanyu, who had three rosaries on her neck, explained.
She further said that to their surprise, it did not rain during their entire journey this year, resulting in their early arrival.
Francis Muwonge, the administrator of the Catholic Martyrs Shrines says that the first pilgrims were expected to arrive on Friday or over the weekend. He nonetheless says that the pilgrims from Bushenyi were well received.
Despite their early arrival, Kamasanyu noted that they had to cover a longer distance due to an unexpected obstacle. Their usual and direct route, which typically passes through the Katonga Bridge, was blocked.
Kamasanyu says that upon reaching Nyendo, they received information about the situation, which led them to alter their route. Consequently, they had to take the Nyendo-Bukomansimbi-Ssembabule-Gomba-Mpigi route, which added more than 120 kilometers to their journey. This additional distance was unplanned and unprepared for by the pilgrims.
Adding to the difficulties, none of the pilgrims had any familiarity or prior experience with the new route. Despite this, they had no alternative but to embark on the journey, relying on their faith. Unfortunately, due to the unexpected route change, they had not adequately planned for resting areas or individuals who typically welcome and take care of pilgrims along the usual route. This lack of preparation added to the challenges they faced during their pilgrimage.
“Normally, we plan our journey knowing our next stop, assuming the weather and other factors remain constant. However, we found ourselves on the Ssembabule road without knowing where we would be resting or staying along the way.” she softly noted.
She further explains that due to the uncertainty surrounding the new route, they had to make adjustments to their walking speed and schedule during this particular section. Previously, they would start walking at 3 pm, but now they changed their start time to midnight.
With anxiety about what awaited them, they felt unable to rest until later, around 7 am.
Another challenge they encountered was the lack of knowledge regarding suitable resting places along this section of the road.
Consequently, they had to keep moving and constantly feared that their need for rest would coincide with being in a wilderness area without any suitable resting spots.
Brandina Katontoli, another pilgrim, further highlights that this particular section posed some challenges, primarily due to the intense sunshine during the day. The strong sunlight occasionally slowed their progress, making it more difficult to maintain a consistent pace.
Additionally, they had a strong desire to stick together as a group and ensure that no one was left behind on this unfamiliar route.
Among the pilgrims, is a ten-year-old Catherine Ninsiima who is embarking on the sacred journey for the first time. While the older members express their concern about the extended travel time, as they had previously experienced a shorter route without difficulties, the young girl, who is in primary four, shares her excitement.
Ninsiima reveals that she had always desired to undertake this pilgrimage but was consistently denied due to her young age. Now that she has finally arrived, she is overjoyed and has a clear mission, which is to seek wisdom and intercede for her family to acquire the funds necessary for her education.
While this group has already reached the shrine, taking a longer route, their counterparts from Isingiro werer stranded at Katongo Bridge due to its collapse. The group, consisting of 50 individuals including women and children, started their pilgrimage on Wednesday to the Namugongo shrines in honor of Uganda Martyrs Day, which is observed on June 3rd every year.
After covering a distance of over 220 kilometers, their progress was halted when the Masaka-Kampala highway was closed following the recent bridge collapse.
Despite receiving warnings from the police and the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to opt for alternative routes, these determined foot pilgrims persisted in their journey towards the Kampala-Masaka highway until they encountered an obstacle on Monday.
When the bridge collapsed, the ministers in charge of works and transport provided assurance to the pilgrims that the bridge would be repaired by the time they arrived at Katonga.
As a result, additional pilgrims have now chosen to abandon the longer Sembabule route, hoping that a temporary bridge will be in place by the time they reach the location. However, this promise has not yet been fulfilled.