ENTEBBE: Every February 17th, many Catholics make a pilgrimage to Mapeera-Kigungu to commemorate the arrival of the religion on the soil of Uganda. . The day was February 17, 1879. Little did they know that 144 years later, the movement they started would be stronger and the biggest religious denomination in Uganda.
On this date, a small landing site of Kigungu in Entebbe, Wakiso District, received two French missionaries whose mission was to change the way people in the hinterland worshipped. The two were Rev. Fr. Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans later nick-named Mapeera and Amansi by the locals.
Since then, every February 17, many Catholics make pilgrimage to Kigungu to commemorate the arrival of Christianity in Uganda.
On February 17, 1879, when the two men got ashore, they had no idea what awaited them or how their mission would impact the country. The missionary pair had landed on the shores of Lake Victoria.
According to archives from the Catholic literature at Kigungu, Mapeera and Amansi left Marseilles (their native place) with the First Caravan of White Fathers on April 22, 1878, and landed in Zanzibar on June 17. The Caravan then ventured on land into the interior of Africa. Of the 10 missionaries, two braved the wilderness, northwards, crossed Lake Victoria and arrived in Uganda.
From Kigungu cape, they continued to Rubaga, spent a night at Kisubi where they planted a tree called Mapeera. Nearby, there is a secondary school named Mapeera SS in memory of Father Mapeera.
When Kabaka Muteesa I learned of their arrival at Kisubi, he had them taken to Kitebi, about two and half miles from Rubaga, where they spent 15 days, shivering with fever, at times without food.
Fr. Mapeera then informed Kabaka Muteesa I that they were on a mission to establish a Catholic Mission in Uganda. The Kabaka approved of their coming to his kingdom on February 23, 1879 and promised to send canoes to fetch their colleagues.
Legends has it that the area got its name from a lakeshore tree called Kigungu. The huge tree was being used by fishermen to dry their fish as they waited for clients. When no or fewer clients showed up, the excess fish was often left to rot in the open. Sometimes, the fishermen abandoned their catch at the site out of frustration because there were no people to eat the fish.
Kigungu Church has through the times changed, from the mud-and-wattle structure built by Bishop Edward Michaud (the prelate lived there in 1933 to 1945) to a baked brick and tiled building. The place first started as pilgrimage site in 1960s, with the then parish priest Fr Joseph Kyeyune and some well-wishes playing lead roles. The trips have today morphed into a revered annual pilgrimage by the faithful.
This year’s 144th anniversary has been celebrated with mass led by the Emeritus Papal Nuncio to Uganda Archbishop Augustine Kasujja and graced by several prelates from various Dioceses in the country and several dignitaries.
Credit: Daily monitor 2015