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KAMPALA (LifeSiteNews) —The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions means that an annual African pilgrimage in honor of the Ugandan Martyrs may go ahead.

Every June 3, Christians in Africa commemorate the 23 Anglican and 22 Roman Catholic martyrs who were executed between 1885 and 1887 in Uganda.  The Christians, known as the Ugandan Martyrs, were burned alive on the orders of Mwanga II, the Kabaka (king) of Buganda in central Uganda, for refusing to comply with his wishes to reject Jesus Christ and Christian doctrine concerning sexuality.

The Catholic martyrs were beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and canonized on October 18, 1964, by Pope Paul VI.

Every year, a large number of pilgrims begins their journey long before the actual date of commemorations, some traveling over long distances barefoot from neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi.

This year the Diocese of Fort Portal in southwestern Uganda is responsible for leading the celebrations.

“On 14th February 2022, we received the great news from the Uganda Episcopal Conference of the choice of Fort Portal Catholic Diocese to lead this year’s Uganda Martyrs’ Day celebrations at Namugongo Catholic Shrine,” said Bishop Robert Mukhiirwa Akiiki of Fort Portal in his letter to the faithful.

Image of St. Karoli (“Charles”) Lwanga, the leader of Uganda martyrs

This year a group of over 500 pilgrims from the Lira Diocese in northern Uganda are making the pilgrimage by walking 342 kilometers. They anticipate reaching the holy site within two weeks of their start date.

The pilgrims of several parishes habitually form one large group led by their coordinator, who is generally elected by the bishop. They often walk at night and rest throughout the day.  They usually encounter several difficulties along the route, which could lead to serious injuries if adequate treatment were not available.

“We have the difficulty of running out of food, drink, reflectors  jackets, and even drugs due to injuries sustained on their journey,” said Alfred Okello, the coordinator of the Lira Diocese pilgrims.

Some individuals see this type of pilgrimage as the sole option to petition God for help with their necessities, such as finding work, paying school fees, or treating ailments in their families.

The choice of the official hymn for this year’s celebration was inspired by the theme “Baptized and sent to witness Christ with love and hope.”