Over 50-foot pilgrims from Isingiro District under Mbarara Catholic Archdiocese have pitched camp in Nkozi Sub County, Mpigi District, eagerly waiting for a pathway to be established across the damaged River Katonga bridge on the Masaka-Kampala highway.
The group, consisting of children and women, started their pilgrimage on Wednesday to the Namugongo shrines in commemoration of the Uganda Martyrs Day observed on June 3rd each year. After traveling over 220 kilometers, their progress came to a halt as a result of the closure of the Masaka-Kampala highway due to the recent bridge collapse.
Despite warnings from the police and the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to use alternative routes, the determined foot pilgrims persisted in their journey towards the Kampala-Masaka highway until they encountered a barrier on Monday.
John Mary Kabireho, the leader of the stranded Catholic foot pilgrims, explains that they have set up camp near the bridge in the hope that an emergency foot pathway will be provided for them to safely cross over.
They opted not to take the longer alternative route through Masaka-Sembabule, Gomba, and Mpigi districts, fearing the additional distance and challenges it presented. Kabireho adds that they will wait near the bridge to convey the urgency of the situation to the contractors in the hopes of expediting the repair process, allowing the pilgrims to continue their journey.
Alex Arinitwe, another foot pilgrim, expresses their expectation that the Uganda National Roads Authority would swiftly devise plans to facilitate the crossing of the bridge. He points out that while they are committed to their faith journey, some of the pilgrims are already fatigued and unable to endure the return trip to Masaka for the alternative route through Sembabule-Gomba.
Arinitwe urges the authorities to establish a temporary foot pathway to enable the pilgrims to cross the river.
Margret Nannono, the Chairperson of Pilgrims at St. Jude Lukaya Catholic Parish, who accompanied the pilgrims through Lwera wetland, explains that they couldn’t ask the tired pilgrims to turn back to Masaka.
Nannono suggests that if the Uganda National Roads Authority doesn’t arrange for a footpath over the bridge promptly, they may consider using canoes and boats to cross from Luku-Ggolo to the Namirembe landing site in Kayabwe town council, then reconnect with the highway.
In response to the situation, General Edward Katumba Wamala, the Minister of Works and Transport, reveals that the government is considering the installation of a temporary bridge that would allow light vehicles, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), and pedestrians to cross the river.
He expects the bridge to be ready within the next five days, noting that the contractor is already mobilizing the necessary equipment to commence the repair works.