Pilgrimage, understood in general as journeys to holy places, is a practice common to many world religions. The religious and spiritual motives attached to this devotion in general are to obtain supernatural help, as an act of thanksgiving and as an act of penance.
On the other hand, in many cultures and religions, people are seen as being on a journey going from this world to another. For Christianity, human beings are considered as strangers and nomads - on this earth, searching for a real homeland, a better homeland, a heavenly homeland, a city founded by God. (cf. Hebrews 11/13, 13/14; Eph. 2/19) Speaking about pilgrimage, the anthropologist V. William TURNER says: “A pilgrimage liberates a person from the obligatory everyday constraints of status and role, also from our personal stories, our personal triumphs and defeats, and we are enabled to become ourselves again in a new model of human brotherhood. It is a journey into liminarity (threshold), where we will acquire new insights about life, about mission, about God, others and ourselves.”
Pope Paul VI speaking to the representatives of the various religions of India said: “….We must meet not merely as tourists, but as pilgrims who set out to find God – not in buildings of stone but in human hearts. Man must meet man, nation must meet nation, as brothers and sisters, as children of God.”
It is our hope and prayer that all of us pilgrims in the ‘footsteps of Mapeera, Amans and the Uganda Martyrs’, we will enter into this “liminarity, where we will acquire new insights about life, about mission, about God, others and ourselves.”
Pilgrimage, understood in general as journeys to holy places, is a practice common to almost all world religions, with different practices and devotions. In general, the religious and spiritual motives attached to this devotion are: 1. To obtain supernatural help. 2. To thank God for special favours received. 3. To atone for sins. To these three motives, let us add two more for this particular pilgrimage: to learn more about the values and ideals that Fr. Simeon Lourdel Mapeera and Bro Amans Delmas cherished most and for which they sacrificed their life and finally to pray for their beatification.
Let us pray that as we go back in the "Footsteps of Mapeera and Amans", we spiritually be renewed and empowered so that we too, like our Ancestors in the faith, may be wholeheartedly
committed to the service of God's Kingdom, concretely expressed in our service to our brothers and sisters and to the common good.
"How beautiful on the mountains, are the feet of the messenger announcing peace, of the messenger of good news, who proclaims salvation and says to Zion, 'Your God is king!" (Isaiah 52: 7)
That we too, like Mapeera and Amans, may be messengers of God's Good News.
We start and continue this pilgrimage with Mother Mary because of her specific role in the life and mission of our Ancestors in the faith. She was a key reference for them right from Algiers up to Uganda and elsewhere. And, immediately after their arrival in Uganda, they dedicated this country to Mary and they put under her protection all the mission posts they founded.
Mary was not only an intercessor for them, but she was also their model in their love and service to God and his people with all their heart, mind and body.
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, this is your son”. Then to the disciple he said, “This is your mother”. And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.” (John 19: 25-27)
That we too, like Mary, may always seek to love and serve God and our fellow people with all our hearts, mind and body.
The saying: "Lubaale mbeera nga n'embiro kw'otadde", corresponds to the English one, "God helps those who help themselves". Pilgrimage to these islands, traditionally linked to the Ganda-Traditional religion, therefore, offers to us a good occasion to reflect and meditate on the deep meaning of “prayer and work" in our lives as believers. The message is very clear: God's help complements our individual and community efforts but never substitutes them!
"But someone may say: So you have faith, and I have good deeds? Show me this faith of yours without deeds and then! It is by my deeds that I will show you my faith." (James 2: 18)
To be people of prayer and work.
The journey took them almost one year (from Algiers 17th April 1878 - 17th February 1879). Imagine the sufferings and sacrifices they went through! And for what reason except their "love for God and love for us"!
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will be our Messenger?" And I said, "Here am I Lord! Send me!" (Isaiah 6: 8)
That all peoples may respond positively to this call of God.
Over the years, Kisubi hill has grown into a centre for education and learning in different kinds of secular and religious studies. She has become a source of wisdom, but she should never forget that : "The fear of God, is the beginning of Wisdom" (Prov. 1: 7).
"Blessed are those who have discovered wisdom, those who have acquired understanding! Gaining her is more rewarding than silver, her yield is more valuable than gold. She is beyond the price of pearls; nothing you could covet is her equal." (Proverbs 3: 13 - 18)
That all children have equal opportunities to quality secular and religious education.
The key message of Kitebi is: Hospitality and dialogue between believers of different religions, especially between Christians and Muslims. In Abraham, our common Ancestor in the Faith, we have not only a model of practicing the virtue of hospitality (Ex. 18: 1-15), but also through him we have a revelation that in welcoming strangers, we welcome God Himself.
"Do to others what you like them to do for you" (Luke 6: 31).
For mutual respect and love between believers of different religions.
Lubaga was the place where cultural, political and religious leaders used to meet and exchange ideas and views for the good of the people and the common good. Church and State must work together and this is well expressed in the National Motto of Uganda: "For God and my Country".
"I beg you to send me experts in various fields of education and skills to train my people.... Please send me trustworthy persons. ... Send me some teachers of religion so that I may understand God.” (Letter of Muteesa I to Queen Victoria)
For good working relations between the religious, cultural and political leaders.
Nabulagala is the cradle and ancestral home of the Catholics in Uganda. Pilgrimage at this place invites us , therefore, to reflect on our specific 'identity and vocation' as disciples and apostles of Christ, who in every Eucharist invites us to sacrifice ourselves for others as he did himself.
"Have we really discovered the challenge that comes from communing in the life, death of resurrection of Jesus who gives himself to us in the Eucharist?..Is the Eucharist for us the school par excellence of social-justice and active love for the neighbour?" (Archbishop C. K. Lwanga, Nabulagala 2009)
That the Sacraments transform our minds into the mind of Christ.
The common fate that befell the Uganda Martyrs at Munyonyo, their common journey from Munyonyo to Nakiyanja (Namugongo), their martyrdom in the common fire at Nakiyanja should remain a permanent witness against all that make us see in the other an enemy instead of a brother, a sister, a co-witness of the Light of Christ.
"As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.. ... May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me." (John 17: 18 - 21)
That, like the Uganda Martyrs, Christians may be united in witnessing to the Light of Christ.
During the time of persecutions, many catechumens and Christians came to the missionaries for encouragement and spiritual empowerment especially through the Sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation and Eucharist. Nalukolongo is therefore a symbol of strong faith and firmness in the midst of religious persecutions and hardships. It is also a symbol of Christian Charity.
"In the world you will have hardships, but be courageous: I have conquered the world." (Jn. 16: 33)
For firmness and perseverance in faith and in doing what is good and just.
The steadfastness of the future martyrs at Munyonyo leaves us astounded and remains for each one of us a great challenge in each and every decision we make each day. We either stand firm and obey God as they did or we give in to fear and betray our faith. And as leaders at any level, we should never abuse the power entrusted to us but use it for the good of the people.
"...Your Martyrs teach us just how true Christians should be, especially young Christians, African Christians. For Christians must be courageous, they must be strong, they must, as Saint Peter wrote, "be firm in the faith" (1 Pet. 5, 9)." (Pope Paul VI, Namugongo 2nd August 1969)
That we may always remain firm in our faith and in doing what is right and good.
Namugongo is the general name given to the whole area where the Catholic and Protestant sites are located. Nakiyanja, on the other hand, specifically refers to the protestant site, which at the time of Martyrdom was an official execution centre (ettambiro). In 1876-7, some Muslims were killed because of refusing to eat meat slaughtered by non-Muslims and it is said that some of them were executed at Nakiyanja.
This devotion developed especially after the beatification of the Martyrs on 6th June 1920.
"But, you will ask me, why should the Martyrs be honoured?
And I answer you: It is because they have performed the most heroic, and therefore the greatest and most beautiful of all actions; they have, as I said, laid down their lives for their Faith, that is, for their religion and for the freedom of their conscience. Therefore they are our champions, our heroes, our teachers. They teach us how real Christians should be. Listen to me now: Should a Christian be a coward? Should he be afraid? Should he betray his own Faith? No! Of course not! Your Martyrs teach us just how true Christians should be, especially young Christians, African Christians. For Christians must be courageous, they must be strong, they must, as Saint Peter wrote, “be firm in the faith” (1 Pet. 5, 9). Your Martyrs teach us how much the Faith is worth!"
That we may be firm in the faith like the martyrs.
It is near Mwanza in Tanzania
Forgiveness and reconciliation between Mwanga and the Christians remains the key message at this place and challenge to all Christians. Mapeera wrote: "We welcomed him appropriately in spite of all his past wrongdoings and we assured him that, on behalf and at the example of our Divine Master, we forgave him his past evil deeds...... God may have His own views on this prince in spite of his criminal actions of the past.”
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)
For the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation
The island of Bulingugwe is very near Munyonyo.
The history of Bulingugwe Island is one of the painful consequences of ‘conflicts and wars’ based, unfortunately, on religion! This challenges us to make our religions instruments of peace and reconciliation and never instruments of hatred, violence and destruction of life and property.
"Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called children of God." (Mt. 5:9)
That all believers may work for peace and justice.
Nabunnya is found at the foot of Lubaga hill near Pope Paul VI Memorial Hotel.
On his death bed, Mapeera asked the Christians to remain faithful to their baptismal promises, to pray for him, their country and their King and to practice the virtue of patience. Mapeera loved this country and gave his life for it.
"My heart is all here, in my dear Buganda Mission, which has become for me like a second homeland. I am only 35 years old, but I feel already terribly old. My hair and my small beard are getting white!" (Letter to his brother Ernest)
That we may love our country and fellow people and serve them wholeheartedly.
(NB: For detailed explanations and reflections, see the booklet: Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Mapeera and Amans. A hand book for every pilgrim, by Nnyombi Richard, M. Afr. In Luganda: Tulamage mu kisinde kya Mapeera ne Amansi)