Kampala. For some people, leaving home to walk more than 300km is an unthinkable act. For 90-year-old Bernard Tibyangye, it is a calling and a walk of faith.
Tibyangye, a former catechist of St Andrea Kaggwa, Kitabi Parish in Bushenyi, Mbarara Archdiocese, made his sixth pilgrimage to Namugongo Uganda Martyrs Shrines on foot this year. “For me to walk for six years to this place is nothing but a sacrifice, just so I can emulate how Christ suffered for our sake, and to learn more about our martyrs,” explains Tibyangye.
Appearing strong at the Catholic Shrine in Namugongo on Thursday, Tibyangye explains: “I was so nervous this morning that I almost threw up but I’m now in good health after prayer. Next year, I will walk provided I’m still alive.”
The retired catechist, who served in the Catholic Church from 1942 to 1987 (45 years), led a group of nine women pilgrims from his home parish to Namugongo, setting off on May 10 at 8pm, and arriving at Namugongo on Wednesday May 24 at 6.30pm.
“I wish everyone could feel the way I am feeling right now. It’s a very uplifting feeling to be here, especially to be able to pray for my family and other people,” he says.
“I have walked to Namugongo six times on foot now. I feel very strong although I keep hearing some people complaining about being sick, having swollen legs and being tired. I just thank God that even at my age, I can still make it here,” Tibyangye, said.
Tibyangye and his group walked 343Km from Kitabi to Namugongo, a journey a bus would make in four hours. While they made the entire 343km route for two weeks walking during the day and early in the evenings, they took off the nights to rest at designated rest stops.
Their first stopover was at Biharwe Catholic Parish in the Archdiocese of Mbarara, about 47km from their parish, then Ssanga Parish near Mbarara Municipality from where they proceeded to Kijjukizo-Lyantonde Parish. From Kijjukizo, they went to Kyazanga Catholic Parish, Masaka-Kimannya Parish, Ggoli Catholic Parish, Mpigi Parish, Bakateyamba Home Nalukolongo and on to Namugongo.
Bearing the journey
On the way, Tibyangye says they prayed, recited the Rosary, prayed for others and the souls in purgatory, and praised God for the gift of life.
“Although we moved with our own money, good Samaritans and priests gave us food and water wherever we passed. Someone would usher us into a hotel and buy us food,” he says, adding; “Once you take that first step out of the door, there is always hope. The Uganda Martyrs we celebrate on June 3, used to walk from Mityana to Nalukolongo daily. For us, it is just once a year.”
The group plans to travel back to Bushenyi by bus on June 5.
Tibyangye says repeatedly subjecting himself to the walk has made him physically and spiritually strong. “Since I first started coming to Namugongo, I never fall sick and neither do my children, each of whom has also made it in life because I have walked this journey every year and it’s my wish because I have to thank God for whatever He is doing for me and my family,” he said. Tibyangye has 16 children among whom is a nun and a catechist.
For the retired catechist, having the opportunity to pray for the poor children while exercising is his greatest motivation of reciting the Rosary. He says he came with special petitions for the country, family, souls in purgatory, religious and political leaders and other people in need of prayers.