For more than a decade now one international name has been synonymous with the Namugongo Martyrs’ Day pilgrimage.
Age and distance could not come between her and her spirituality. Travelling either from Dar es Salaam or Butiama in Musoma northern Tanzania, former first lady Maria Nyerere, who is commonly called Mama Nyerere, has for more than 10 years, in the company of either some of her children or relatives, been a constant guest to the shrines in Namugongo.
This year’s celebrations will mark her 12 consecutive pilgrimage to the shines since 2007.
From her first pilgrimage to date, Mr Emmanuel Katumba has played host to Mama Nyerere, the wife of Tanzania’s first president, the late Julius Nyerere.
He had earlier on been hosting pilgrims from Tanzania since 1988.
“I first met Mama Nyerere in 2003 at her home in Dar es Salaam. I had gone to visit a group of people who had been making pilgrimages to Namugongo from Tanzania. It was during that meeting that I found out that Mama Nyerere prays with them. In our conversation I found out that she loved the Uganda Martyrs so much like her late husband had.”
Four years after their first meeting in Dar es Salaam Katumba received Mama Nyerere at Entebbe airport on her maiden pilgrimage in 2007.
“One thing that attracted her to start coming to Namugongo is her devotion to the Uganda martyrs as the husband was. Also, when her husband was declared a servant of God by the Vatican she wanted to dedicate his beatification process to the Uganda martyrs, hence she dedicated pilgrimage every year to dedicate the process to them,” he says.
In 2007 she made her first pilgrimage to Uganda martyr’s shrine in Namugongo in the company of her children and family members. She was also accompanied by members of the Marian group she was praying with in Dar es Salaam.
Besides dedication to her husband’s beatification to the martyrs she is also dedicating her children and those who have passed on.
She also dedicates her country, Tanzania to the intercession of the martyrs for peace.
And most of all she prays for peace to prevail in Uganda so that she can keep coming to Namugongo every year to dedicate her husband’s beatification.
Besides the martyr’s day pilgrimage she comes to attend the Nyerere Day prayers that are held two days before the Martyr’s Day celebrations (June 1).
Because of her political status her visit, though mainly religious, has a political connection as the government has to be informed and it provides her with security.