By Jessica A Badebye in Kampala, Uganda
Hundreds of thousands of Ugandans this weekend welcomed Pope Francis to the country as the Catholic Church leader became the third Pope to visit the country since Pope Paul VI visited Uganda in 1969 to become the first ever pope to visit Africa.
Amid ululations and wild excitement, Ugandans put aside their political and religious differences to give a warm welcome to the Holy Father who in turn described the country as a bastion of faith and whose peoples should be encouraged to use to their benefit, the wonderful resources that the country has. Arriving when the country was in a middle of a fierce presidential election campaign, Pope Francis chose not to be involved in the country’s volatile politics and instead encouraged Ugandans to endeavour to let every citizen enjoy the country’s wealth.
The Pope officiated at a massive Mass at the shrine of Ugandan martyrs at Namugongo where he paid tribute to 19th century Christian martyrs believed to have been killed for their faith, a belief disputed by many who allege that the then Kabaka (King) of Buganda Mwanga II was punishing court pages who failed to carry out his orders. This was where many of the 45 Anglican and Catholic martyrs were burned alive. Thousands of pilgrims braved rain to spend the night holding a vigil near the martyrs’ shrines and there were long lines of pilgrims still trying to access the shrine as Pope Francis addressed the crowds on Saturday morning. Sources close to Namugongo say that over 100,000 people waited from before dawn to attend the papal mass. He was given a tour of the recently constructed museum at the Anglican martyrs’ shrine by Uganda’s Catholic Archbishop Stanley Ntagali and a tour of the recently renovated catholic shrine by the Kampala Diocese Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga.