By Hanning Mbabazi
Several pilgrims have suffocated today at Namugongo Martyrs Shrine due to overcrowding and many of them had to be rushed to health facilities for medical attention.
Red Cross Society spokesperson Irene Nakasiita confirmed to SpyUganda that so far they have registered a total of 67 Christians who were rushed to several hospitals for emergency health care after collapsing. “Since morning, we have registered 67 cases referred to different medical facilities like Kiruddu, Mulago and Naguru hospitals,” Nakasiita said. Namugongo Red Cross team leader, Kenneth Kategaya, said the pilgrims were in life-threatening health conditions and a decision was swiftly made to rush them to Kiruddu, Kawempe and Mulago main hospitals for expert medical attention.
Kategeya said some of the pilgrims had head injuries sustained while struggling to gain access to the Catholic Martyrs Shrine. Some pilgrims were seen struggling to save children that were mingled in the crowd. The Red Cross team said that they had handled 1,027 emergencies since Thursday. Most of the cases had swollen feet, eye infections and others had chronic illnesses that intensified due to walking long distances and being in overcrowded places. Meanwhile, security forces are struggling to stop pilgrims from entering Catholic Martyrs Shrine due to insufficient space inside. Thousands of others are still stuck in long queues far away from the shrine Namugongo Protestant and Catholic shrines have so far received more than 10000 Christians in recognition of the Martyrs day celebration which is marked every 3rd of June. Pilgrims are said to have collapsed to lack of water and eats where as others are said to have collapsed due to diseases like high blood pressure and fatigue.
Nakasiita also revealed that for a long time pilgrims have been advised to move with drinking water and eats but they pay no heed to such advice. She added that Uganda Red Cross emergency response team will remain on ground to help any believers who might get problems due to congestion at Namugongo. The Uganda Martyrs are a group of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity in the historical kingdom of Buganda, now part of Uganda, who were executed between 31 January 1885 and 27 January 1887on orders of the Late Kabaka of Buganda Mwanga II. The deaths took place at a time when there was a three-way religious struggle for political influence at the Buganda royal court. The episode also occurred against the backdrop of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ – the invasion, occupation, division, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers.
A few years after, the English Church Missionary Society used the deaths to enlist wider public support for the British acquisition of Uganda for the Empire. The Catholic Church beatified the 22 Catholic martyrs of its faith in 1920 and canonized them in 1964. The Basilica of the Uganda Martyrs at Namugongo was built in 1968 and from the 1980s it has become the venue of massive pilgrimages, and plans for large-scale expansion were announced in 2014. In 1993, the Uganda Episcopal Conference established a University named after the Uganda Martyrs, which received its civil charter in 2005. In 2014, Uganda celebrated 50 years since the Uganda Martyrs were canonized and elevated to sainthood by Pope Paul VI on 18 October 1964. The Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine is a thanksgiving monument for their canonization. Official groundbreaking was on 3 May 2015 by the Papal Nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Micheal August Blume, and Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala. Re-development includes construction of a new church shrine, museum, offices, and martyrdom spots of the saints.