The village of Namugongo, just northeast of the city of Kampala, next to Lake Victoria, served as one of the thirteen execution sites perpetrated by the Bugandan king Mwanga II, between the years 1885 and 1887.  Many of the 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican martyrs were burned to death.  

For many years afterwards, the people feared to visit Namugongo.  It became like a new Golgotha or a modern Gehenna.  It was not until 1920 that a Dutch priest, Fr. Fr. Stephen Walters, opened it up as a pilgrimage site.

Fr. Walters had several visions and interior locutions prompting him to come to Africa.  At first his bishop refused to let him go, but after persistent requests he finally received permission.

On 8th March 1920, Fr. Walters came to Africa with Fr. Rooyen and several other priests.  They  were assigned to the village of Nsambya under the direction of the Mill Hill missionaries.

On 6th June 1920, Pope Benedict XV beatified the 22 Catholic Ugandan Martyrs and permited the faithful to honour their memory with private acts of veneration.  Afterwards, Fr. Walters organized the first pilgrimage to Namugongo for priests, religious and the lay faithful.  The martyrs were canonized by Pope Paul VI on 18th October 1964.

The pilgrimage involved walking from the village of Nsambya to Namugongo (16 km).  It marked the beginning of pilgrimages on the Ugandan Martyrs’ Day (June 3 – feast of St Charles Lwanga).  These annual pilgrimages became known as “foot pilgrimages.”  They begin with Mass, a sharing of the history, lessons from the lives of the martyrs, an explanation of what it means to be beatified, and a very long walk.

This first pilgrimage marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the village of Namugongo, as well as in the church and the country of Uganda as a whole.

(The photo below is from one of the early Uganda Martyrs Day Celebrations)

From that day on, the feast of the Uganda Martyrs has had a large attendance of Christian pilgrims, not only from different parts of Uganda but also from outside of Uganda. Among the countries with the most pilgrims outside of Uganda are Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Malawi, Congo (DRC), and Tanzania.   


(… of the author…….)

Br. Richard LWANGA, OP.

Br. Richard is from Uganda, from the diocese of Kiyinda Mityana, the home of 4 of the 22 Ugandan Martyrs;  St. Noah Mawagali, St. Ambrose Kibuuka, St. Mathias Mulumba, and St. Luke Baanabakintu.  Br. Richard is currently studying for the priesthood and has done much research on the church in Africa

 “May the Uganda Martyrs pray for us”