The 2020 Catholic Uganda Martyr’s Day feast slated for May 29th for the youth and June 3 for the rest, has been called off due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
For the first time in many years, the annual Catholic Uganda martyr’s day feast will not occur as COVID-19 has affected preparation plans, movement of pilgrims and stringent restrictions on public gatherings.
Masaka diocese which had been chosen by the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) to organize the first-ever double celebration of the feast, has officially communicated to the bishops’ conference about the development.
Rev Fr Ronald Mayanja, the Masaka Diocesan communications director, says although at first, they thought that the lockdown could be lifted, but because the situation is not yet back to normal, they decided to call off the celebrations.
He, however, notes that the diocese remains ready to organize for the next feast day if at all it reaches again when the battle against the virus has been successful.
“Masaka diocese had already raised over Shs300 million in preparation for the feast which required a total of Shs950 million. Although the feast has been postponed, we have not dissolved the standing organizing committees,” Rev. Fr Mayanja said.
In a letter addressed to all members of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Bishop Joseph Anthony Zziwa, the conference’s chairperson, echoed the need to postpone the feast as the right decision given the prevailing circumstance which has made worship and celebration of the Eucharist, sacraments and other liturgical-pastoral activities very difficult.
“The position of Masaka Diocese should be understood in light of the fact that organizing the celebrations requires frequent meetings. It demands unfettered movement of persons. Above all, with the virus still alive in many countries including Uganda, it is not certain when restrictions on gatherings and movements will be lifted,” observed Bishop Zziwa.
He further argued that even if the government of Uganda lifts the ban today, there would not be enough time to prepare for the feast, thus appealing to episcopal conference members to understand the situation and accept to postpone of Uganda Martyrs Day. He notes that on a later date, the conference will come up with another arrangement.
Meanwhile, the Church of Uganda, which also marks the day, has not come up with a decision regarding the same. Sadiki Adams, the Communications Officer at the church of Uganda Provincial Secretariat says that the top leadership of the church is still studying the situation.
The annual celebration was set aside in honor of the martyrdom of 45 young men who converted to Christianity between 1885 and 1887 to the annoyance of the then Kabaka, Mwanga II of Buganda, who ordered that they be burnt to death. Millions of pilgrims from within and outside Uganda descend on Namugongo, the site where the majority of the converts were martyred, in celebration of their bravery.
The martyr’s day feast is not the first religions feast to be affected, this year Christians across the world observed Easter celebrations from their homes due to the changed mode of prayer in the wake of COVID-19, with all denominations, bending the rules, rituals, and patterns of praying.
Since COVID -19 was declared a pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised several countries to close public places like schools and places of worship among others as a precautionary measure to avoid spread of the virus.