1964 - Pope Paul VI makes a Pilgrimage to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine – 1964

Pope Paul VI makes a Pilgrimage to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine – 1964 

Uganda wrote a golden page in history when Pope Paul VI became the first Roman Catholic Pontiff to go out of the Vatican gates on a foreign trip to Africa and more particularly to Uganda on July 31- August 2. Despite the fact that he had canonized the Uganda Martyrs on October 18, 1964, the thought of the Pope coming to Africa was something that only a few dared to dream about.

According to the New Vision article published online on Sunday 25th August, 2015, The first Pope to visit the Uganda and the Uganda Martyrs Shrine was Pope Paul the IV and his invitation to visit Uganda in 1969 came out of a joke! According to the archives at Lubaga Cathedral, the then Archbishop of Kampala, Emmanuel Nsubuga, had gone to the Vatican fundraising for Namugongo Shrine in March 1969. He travelled with a woven bag locally called a kikapu with which he was fundraising. When he got an audience with Pope Paul VI, he presented the kikapu to the Pope and asked him to bless it. He then used the opportunity to discuss the Uganda Martyrs. And on that day, the pope contributed UGX 140,000, which was almost over UGX 1,000,000,000 ( 1 Billion) of Uganda`s current currency value.

Speechless Archbishop Nsubuga, in appreciation, asked him to come and lay the foundation stone at Namugongo but he got no answer. Later, during the mass at St Peters Basilica Rome on the Feast of St Joseph, March 19, Pope Paul VI announced his decision to visit Uganda later that year. It had never been heard of that a pope could visit an African country! According to sources, the decision met resistance from within the Vatican. The head of the Vatican finance committee, which organized the pope’s visits abroad, Archbishop, Paul Marcinkus, told the media: “It’s easier to organize a trip to the moon than a trip for the pope to Africa!”

He cited such hurdles as weak governments, poor infrastructure and local hazards that could threaten the pope’s health. But he was wrong! Pope Paul VI arrived in Uganda on July 31 and left safely on August 2, 1969 without any nasty incident. He was not eaten by any lions, did not contract any malaria and there was no security threat on his life. In fact, a year later in 1970, when he visited the Philippines, he was attacked by a Bolivian painter, Benjamin Mendoza, with a dagger and wounded in the chest at Manila airport. The injury turned out to be minor.

To honor these modern saints, Paul VI became the first reigning pope to visit sub-Saharan Africa when he visited Uganda in July 1969; a visit which included a pilgrimage to the site of the martyrdom at Namugongo. He also dedicated a site for the building of a shrine church in honor of the martyrs, at the spot where Charles Lwanga was killed.  The shrine church itself, was dedicated in 1975 and it was subsequently named a basilica church, a high honor in Catholicism.

During his Sermon at the Shrine, Pope Paul VI said ““By now you Africans you are missionaries to yourselves” The Pope stated at Lubaga Cathedral on his first day of his three days’ visit to Uganda on July 31, 1969. Pope Paul VI was the first reigning pope to visit sub-Saharan Africa.

Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury makes a Pilgrimage to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine – 1984

The Head of the worldwide Anglican Communion Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury, also visited Uganda to make holy pilgrimage to the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine in January 1984.


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