Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.
It is impossible to describe the devastating consequences of Covid-19 on the celebrations of June 3, feast of the Uganda Martyrs. Dioceses in Uganda take turns annually to animate the one day celebration, which draws millions of pilgrims to the Namugongo Shrine. The day is marked as a national public holiday. The diocese whose turn it is to animate Martyrs Day liturgy at Namugongo literally spends an entire year in meetings, fundraising and various preparations. The sadness and emptiness of it all this year was not lost on Bishop Silverus Jjumba of Masaka Diocese, who presided over the 2021 Martyrs Day Eucharistic celebrations. In keeping with Covid-19 protocols the Mass, at the Namugongo shrine was celebrated before a physical presence of 200 persons only.
Multitudes in virtual attendance
“This year, we assemble under exceptional circumstances. A slim number of the faithful are here physically. The multitudes are at home in virtual attendance. Not that they wished to stay away and watch television or listen to radios or indeed switch on social media platforms. No, it is because the Covid-19 pandemic has dictated and forced us into this terrible situation. We look like the dismembered body of Christ. We are scattered, but it would not be right to say we are in disarray,” said Bishop Jjumba. As if echoing his words, the liturgical choir from Masaka Diocese did not disappoint.
Moving away from merry-making and pomp
The Bishop of Masaka, who described this year’s celebration as lukewarm, urged the faithful to accept the sober celebrations as the will of God.
“It is the same God calling us in these two years (of Covid-19) to move away from the ordinary merry-making, the pomp and ululations with which many of us celebrate June 3 – the day of commemorating the Uganda Martyrs,” he said. Adding, “In faith let us embrace this opportunity as guidance from the Holy Spirit that we should all spiritually internalise the example set for us by the Uganda Martyrs, that is, their deep faith, deep charity and of loving God to the point of shedding blood,” urged the Masaka prelate.
Calling upon Ugandans to reconcile
Making passing reference to Ugandans still reeling from a polarising January 2021 presidential election, which left over 50 persons dead at the height of campaigns, Bishop Jjumba called upon Ugandans to internalise the legacy of forgiveness bequeathed to them by the Martyrs. He called on Ugandans to reconcile, respect divergent views and embrace justice.
Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga – fondly missed
Added to the sombre celebration was the notable absence of the Archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, who died in his sleep early in April this year. A larger than life personality, Archbishop Lwanga’s absence was remarked upon by countless persons on various social media platforms, many of whom expressed a continued sense of loss and grief over the death of their shepherd.
Let continue to grow our faith
During the celebration at Namugongo, Bishop Jjumba made special mention of Archbishop Lwanga and several other clerics, sisters and lay faithful most of whom succumbed to Covid-19. The Bishop consoled families, friends and Ugandans. He encouraged them to forge ahead, in faith, in spite of their loss and pain.
“Let this sadness, lukewarm-ness, this kind of emptiness reassert itself into a vibrancy for the crucified Lord. In this apparent mood of desolation, let us grow fresh vigour for our faith just as scripture says, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces much fruit,” said Bishop Jjumba.