There were dramatic scenes at Namugongo Catholic shrines on Saturday afternoon, a day after the Martyrs day celebrations as police clashed with the administrators on how to handle stranded pilgrims. When our reporter arrived at the shrines in the morning, Rev Fr Vincent Lubega, the Rector of the shrines was meeting his team on how to deal with the pilgrims who were asking for transport back to their respective homes.
At least 35 pilgrims had already gathered near the minor basilica, saying they were stranded. As the priest and his team were still discussing how to handle the matter, two police officers at the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police-ASP intervened, saying they wanted to handle the stranded pilgrims.
The duo claimed that through their research, they had discovered that hundreds of people were still stranded at the shrine.
“We have passed around, very many people are stranded here. We want to see how they go home. Are these also stranded? ” one of the ASP only identified as Tumusiime by his name tag asked the priest.
The priest informed journalists that not every person that was still within or around the shrine was stranded. “We have been handling this for years. Not everyone you see here is stranded. Some people are waiting for their means of transport and others are waiting for their families to send them transport fares,” the priest told the officers.
Father Lubega’s words seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as the officers insisted that they wanted to handle the matter so that everyone returns home. “As police, we are here to help. We want to know how many people are here and where they are going so that we arrange for the transport,” Tumusiime said.
Pushed into the corner, the priest retorted that everyone at the shrine was their visitor and they are obliged to cater to their needs. “All these are our visitors. The shrine administration together with the organizing committee (from Fort portal diocese) will support their transport and if we reach our limit then we will handle them over to the police,” the priest emphasized.
The officers calmed downed and listened to the priest. Rev Lubega told them that if they had any person they think is stranded, they were free to bring him or her to join those who had already approached the administrators of the shrine for help.
In an interview, Rev Fr Lubega noted that in his experience over the years, he has learned that failure starts with miscommunication. He revealed that if they handled the situation according to the wishes of some people, they might make a lot of mistakes and waste resources that could have been deployed on other important matters.
Rev Fr Lubega revealed that the church has since put in procedures through, which stranded pilgrims can receive support to their homes. He explained that the procedure involves vetting the pilgrims, contacting their relatives to see whether they provide the transport from home and once they exhaust all the avenues, that is when they can support them.
He argued that even those that get transport shouldn’t expect to be dropped at their doorsteps. “The idea is to get them to the major town in their district from there each will be requested to find his or her means home,” he said. Some of the pilgrims said that they lost their transport money to thieves at the shrines while others, said they had spent all their money on meals because of the hiked commodity prices.
Another group comprising over 30 pilgrims from Bulambuli district told journalists that they were waiting for their area MP, Isaac Katenya to send them Shillings 1.2million for transport. Mary Ruth Bayoole, one of the pilgrims explained that the legislators had promised to send them the money on Friday, which didn’t happen. She, however, said that the MP has promised to send the money on Sunday to enable them to travel back home.
Rev. Edison Abaasa, the organizing secretary for martyr’s day at the Anglican site also told us that around 30 pilgrims were still around their shrines.
“They are not stranded. There were many people here so they didn’t get the chance to visit the martyrs’ museum and now that is what they are doing and afterward they will be going home,” Rev Abaasa noted.
A report from the police indicates that only four children are still stranded. Carol Kushemerirwa, the child protection unit commander at the Catholic shrine, said they are trying all means possible to locate the parents of the stranded children.
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