A day after the Martyrs Day celebrations, at least 200 pilgrims were yesterday stranded at the Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo.
The Parish priest and caretaker of the Catholic shrine, the Rev Fr Vincent Lubega, yesterday said despite the small crowd still at the shrine, about 200 pilgrims have been registered to be stranded and will be catered for by different stakeholders.
“We are working together as the parish, episcopal conference and the Archdiocese of Tororo to see that the stranded people get some food and go back to their homes. We have always done this,” Fr Lubega said.
Giving reasons as to why the pilgrims could have been stranded, Fr Lubega said the reasons were beyond lack of money.
“Some of them are mentally unstable, others are not familiar with Kampala City and many genuinely do not have money to take them back home. The reason most of the pilgrims come here is not because they have enough money, but it is because of the growing faith and the need to have a hands-on faith experience. That is why some of them get stranded,” he said.
Ms Sefurosa Mbaziira, 62, from Mubende District, said she could not go back to her home because she does not have money despite her four children working in Kampala.
“I do not have a cellular phone and I cannot get in touch with my children. That is how I am finding myself stuck here. The bus that I came with left me as the struggle for the exit door was too much,” she said.
Twelve-year-old Maurois Tumwine from Kiboga District was left behind by the brother.
Tumwine said he was separated from his brother when soldiers and police blocked people from moving as the President’s convoy headed out of the venue.
“If only I can access my Kiboga Town or our sub-county, I would be able to get back home. I do not have money on me and I need people to help me,” he said.
Mr Leo Mande, 53, was left by the commuter van he travelled in from Kamuli District at the time of departure.
He does not have any phone contact of the people who were in the vehicle and he is not familiar with Kampala city.
At the Anglican shrine, in Nakiyanja, everyone seemed to have dispersed save for service providers who were clearing their wares and merchandise and the UPDF soldiers who were waiting for the final instructions to leave the location.
Owing to the lack of statistical evidence, the two martyrs shrines are grappling with getting the right figure of the faithful who attended the events at both the Catholic and Anglican venues.
Fr Lubega estimated the total number of pilgrims who attended the event to be about four million people, a figure that has sparked debate in the public given the space available at the shrine.
He said the Catholic shrine sits on 64 acres of land and about one third (21 acres) of the land is occupied by other structures, and the remaining space (43 acres) is where the people sit and stand.
“We cannot get the real figures because other people were standing while others were seated. We had planned for about four million people and by the look of things, we reached the target,” he added.
Asked how many pilgrims they hosted, Rev Esau Bbosa, the assistant Vicar of the Anglican shrine, said they are not sure about the number but they always estimate the number to be about 30,000 because they use the holding capacity of Mandela National Stadium which is bigger than the shrine to estimate the number of visitors.
“We do not have a particular mechanism of registering the visitors, maybe in future because we started thinking seriously about developing this place in 2014 and those could be ideas for our future planning,” he said.
Rev Esau said the budget for organising the celebrations initially was Shs525 million but they had to revise the budget because they realised that most of the organisers were coming from Kinkizi, Muhabura and Kigezi, in western Uganda.
“We had to organise for them meals, provide accommodation. We had to hire public address systems, we needed to ensure that the maintenance was done. We could have spent about Shs1b,” he said.
On June 3, Anglicans and Catholics gather in big numbers at Namugongo to pay tribute to the 45 martyrs who were killed about 133 years ago by Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda.
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