150th Pilgrimage – Day 1 – Nalukolongo

150th Jubilee - Pilgrimage

Day One - Nalukolongo

Nalukolongo Mission was founded in 1885 by Frs Simeon Lourdel Mapeera, Pierre Giraud and Bro. Amans Delmas. It was the second Catholic mission post in Uganda after Nabulagala (1879). The land was donated by Kabaka Mwanga to the missionaries on their return from Tanganyika. Mwanga wanted to give them a piece of land near his palace at Mengo, but they preferred this site because it was more accessible to the ‘poor and the little ones’ (abakopi). The mission’s church served as the first Cathedral in Uganda for Bishop Leon Livinhac. This post lasted for three years (1885-1888).

Hundreds of catechumens were baptised at this place after the martyrdom of Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe (15th November 1885) and during the general persecution of 1886. Among these were thirteen (13) future martyrs, namely: Charles Lwanga, Denis Ssebuggwawo, Pontian Ngondwe, Athanasius Bazzekuketta, Gonzaga Gonza, Noa Mawaggali, James Buuzabalyawo, Ambrose Kibuuka, Anatoli Kiriggwajjo, Achilles Kiwanuka, Adolph Mukasa Ludigo, Bruno Sserunkuuma and John-Mary Muzeeyi.

It was at Nalukolongo that the first seeds of the indigenous vocation of consecrated life sprouted up in the private vows of celibacy taken by Maria-Mathilda Munaku and Celestin Namusanga, in view of total commitment to the service of the missionaries and the needy. These two did so on their own initiative, before Fr. Simeon Lourdel Mapeera. The latter speaks about Celestin as “our first Black African brother” and about Mathilda as “our first Black African Sister”. Celestin was ransomed in 1885, baptised at the end of the same year; took his temporary vow for one year in 1887; unfortunately he drowned in Lake Victoria when the missionaries were escaping from Buganda after being expelled by the Muslim army in October 1888. Matilda, sister of St. Noa Mawaggali, was baptised in July 1886 and took her temporary vow in the same year; she served in different mission posts and seminaries for all her life until she died in 1934 at the age of 76. She was buried in Bukalasa Seminary cemetery.

Other key historical facts about Nalukolongo:

    • First baptisms of Ugandan women administered by the missionaries themselves were celebrated here.
    • Many young slave boys and girls were ransomed and cared for together with other poor people at this place. This inspired the late Cardinal Nsubuga to found Mapeera Bakateyamba Home (for disabled and needy, 1978) at this place. Two years before (1976), he had founded the Institute of the Good Samaritan Sisters for the same cause with their Mother House at this place. Talking about the vocation of these Sisters, the Cardinal said: “l have abolished the saying that “charity ended with Mapeera”! Let mercy not die with Mapeera, but continue being seen through the charitable works of these girls towards the poor and destitute who will be brought here at Nalukolongo.” (8 December 1978) It is this long tradition of works of charity that in 2015 (28 November) Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to this place in recognition of the importance of the Church’s commitment to reach out to the poor, the handicapped and the sick. On that occasion, he made this appeal: 

“I wanted very much to visit this Home of Charity, which Cardinal Nsubuga founded here in Nalukolongo. This is a place which has always been associated with the Church’s outreach to the poor, the handicapped and the sick. Here, in early times, slave children were ransomed and women received religious instruction (from the missionaries for the first time). | greet the Good Samaritan Sisters who carry on this fine tradition, and | thank them for their years of quiet and joyful service in this apostolate…. Today, from this Home, | appeal to all Parishes and Communities in Uganda and the rest of Africa – not to forget the poor.” (Pope Francis at Nalukolongo)

    • 1886 (13 June): Amidst persecutions and killings of Christians, the missionaries renewed their consecration to B.V. Mary. They signed the act and put it under her statue as they had done at the beginning their mission in Uganda in 1879 (2 July).
    • 1888 (18 October): The Missionaries, after having been imprisoned for five days with the exception of Bro. Amans, were expelled out of the country by the new king Kalema and his Muslim supporters. The mission was completely looted and destroyed such that when they returned in October 1889, they could not come back here.
    • 1893: The remains of Charles Lwanga and Mathias Mulumba which had been buried here in the sacristy of the first church in November 1886, were found after a long search which lasted for many months. Mgr Hirth expressed their joy on that day with these inspiring words:

“I am in a hurry to share with you the joy that Providence willed to fill us yesterday. It is with great gratitude that you will thank the Lord with me. After a number of months of searching, we finally found in the excavations at Nalukolongo, the small box of bones of our Martyrs of 1886. It is five years since it was hidden by the missionaries, at the time of Arab crisis. Surely it is not without divine providence that God has sent to us this precious consolation in the present circumstances.

With this unexpected favour, it is a new era of graces and blessings, which is being announced for our Mission of Nyanza. Let us all bring together our prayers so that we may not remain unworthy of the grace which is announcing itself! Let us call upon our Martyrs and often repeat these invocations: Queen of Martyrs pray for us. All Holy Martyrs, pray for us.” (Mgr Hirth, Letter to missionaries in Tanganyika, 14 November 1893).

NB: These are the only relics of the Uganda Martyrs which were identified for individual martyrs and kept safely. They are the ones carried at Namugongo during the annual pilgrimage procession.

    • 1923 (3rd June) : Blessing and laying of the foundation stone of the Memorial Chapel, by Mgr. John Forbes. It was built in memory of the Uganda Martyrs, Mgr Livinhac and Fr. Mapeera, and dedicated to the Mother of Jesus, Patron Saint of Buganda (Ya Namasole wa Yezu Omuwolereza w’Obuganda). This noble work was initiated and supervised by Fr. Raux Modeste who was then the parish priest of Lubaga.
    • 1929 (3rd June): Memorial Chapel was blessed by Mgr. Arthur Hinsley. It was the first chapel in Uganda to be built in memory of the Uganda Martyrs.
    • 1954: Little Sisters of Jesus (Charles de Foucauld) established themselves at Nalukolongo. Left Uganda in early 1970s.
    • 1991 (29th April): Burial of late Emmanuel Cardinal K. Nsubuga (1914-1991. It was his will to be buried at Nalukolongo with the intention that whoever comes here to pray for his soul, would remember to help the sick and needy in this place.

Card. Nsubuga was a ‘true grandson of the Pioneer Missionaries, especially of Mapeera’. He secured many historical places linked to the pioneer missionaries and the Uganda Martyrs. He brought back to Uganda the remains of Mgr. Livinhac from Algiers, Bro. Amans from Bagamoyo in Tanzania and Fr. Barbot from Zanzibar. He initiated the cause for the beatification of Fr. Simeon Lourdel Mapeera in 1987.

    • Pilgrimage Site: Because of its link with the Uganda Martyrs, hundreds of pilgrims come to this place during the annual pilgrimage to Namugongo in May/June.


“I wanted very much to visit this Home of Charity, which Cardinal Nsubuga founded here in Nalukolongo. This is a place which has always been associated with the Church’s outreach to the poor, the handicapped and the sick. Here, in early times, slave children were ransomed and women received religious instruction (from the missionaries for the first time). I greet the Good Samaritan Sisters who carry on this fine tradition, and I thank them for their years.” (Pope Francis at Nalukolongo)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of the brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt. 25:40)

God of freedom, beauty and truth we believe that your deepest desire, is that all creation might have life, life in abundance. We seek your divine protection for all who are exploited and enslaved.

Restore their dignity and provide them a new beginning. Help us reach out in support of victims and survivors of modern slavery.

Lord, You came to give honour to the least, those forgotten, overlooked and misjudged. You came to give first place to the last, those left behind, misunderstood and undervalued. You came to give a warm welcome to the lost, those who are orphaned, abandoned and destitute. 

Help us to be your ears to listen to their cries. Help us to be your voice speaking out love and acceptance. Help us to be your feet walking beside those in need. Help us to be your hands to clothe, feed and shelter them.

May You continue to renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church; raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world. Make us witnesses to Your goodness; full of love, strength and faith for Your greater glory and the salvation of the entire world.

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