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HE RESCUED ST YOANNA MARIA MUZEYI’S PLACE OF MARTYRDOM

In Summary: GOD’S WORKER. Stephen Nsubuga Wagaba bought a martyrdom site that was about to be sold and turned into a shopping mall, and donated it to Kampala Archdiocese, writes ROBERT MUGAGGA

In a valley between Mengo and Namirembe hills lies a swamp where a well has been constructed. It is here that people are usually seen lining up to draw water. The residents and those coming from afar believe this is no ordinary water but one with special heavenly blessings that can cure all sorts of illnesses. 

In the countdown to Martyrs Day, the number of pilgrims flocking to this place surges with a long queue of both Ugandans and foreigners rushing to drink the water, some of which they put into containers to take with them back home.
This well is located at the very place St Yoanna Maria Muzeyi, the last of the martyrs, was killed on January 31, 1887. A former page in Ssekabaka Mwanga II’s court, Muzeyi was accused of sticking to his Christian faith more than six months after many of his colleagues had been executed at Namugongo. He was beheaded and his body thrown in the swamp. A woman who had gone to fetch water discovered the martyr’s decomposing body.
This swamp would be nowhere to be seen today had it not been for one concerned and generous Catholic, Stephen Nsubuga Wagaba, a resident of Wagaba zone in Rubaga Division. In the early 1990s, Wagaba, who will turn 101 years this July, bought the small piece of land where Muzeyi was martyred. This was after the late Apollo Kironde, the owner of the land, felt compelled to sell it to a group of Muslims. The late Kironde was a son of the former Katikkiro of Buganda, Sir Apollo Kaggwa.
“Kironde approached me saying he did not want to sell this land to non-Christians,” Wagaba says, adding, “Earlier, he had contacted some high ranking people in Kampala Archdiocese to give them the first opportunity of buying it but they had no money. Because of the religious significance of the land, he did not want to sell it to a wealthy Muslim businessman who wanted to construct a shopping mall.” 
Wagaba acted fast and looked for the money Kironde wanted. He bought the land in the names of Kampala Archdiocese and through Monsignor Joseph Ssebayigga, donated the land title to Rubaga Cathedral. 
“I did not do this to receive praise or a reward; rather, because I have much devotion and respect for the Uganda Martyrs. For someone to choose death rather than denounce their faith is such a brave act. They did us proud.” 
The old man wonders how the future generations would have been told that strangers bought off such an important landmark while Catholics stood by, watching.

Promoter of the Uganda Martyrs
In the 1950s, Wagaba was a member of the committee that was entrusted with constructing Namugongo Catholic Martyrs Shrine. Together with the late Monsignor Lawrence Mbwega and some Namugongo parishioners, Wagaba planted the trees that today provide shade for thousands of pilgrims at the Shrine. 
“We knew that with time, when Namugongo became more popular and turned into an international religious pilgrimage site, especially with the canonisation of the martyrs, such trees would be needed to shield believers from the scorching sun,” he recalls.
Wagaba’s car was used for frequent trips to Entebbe Botanic Gardens where seedlings for the trees were bought. They also supervised the construction of the small lake where pilgrims now draw what they believe to be holy water. Previously, this was a swamp where Monsignor Mbwega grew sugarcane and yams and where bricks were made. 
Wagaba was also a member of the central organizing committee of the papal visit to Uganda in July 1969. “I was standing nearby when Pope Paul VI (who will be canonized in October 2018) went down on his knees and kissed the spot where St. Charles Lwanga was martyred at Namugongo.”
He is also one of the brains behind the construction of Pope Paul VI Memorial Community Centre in Ndeeba where he is registered as the first club member. His former classmate and friend, Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga, invited him to help construct the hotel.

How it all began 
Wagaba now has an entire village named after him in Rubaga Division where he was born in July 1917 to the late Expedito Zzibu and Rosalia Nankya. He joined the royal enclosure of his grandfather, the prominent Buganda chief Stanislas Mugwanya. In 1924, he was transferred to Ssekabaka Daudi Chwa’s palace in Mengo. 
From the palace, he attended Lubaga Vernacular Elementary School and then, travelled back to Mugwanya’s enclosure in Bukerere where he rubbed shoulders with the future Kabaka, Sir Edward Mutesa II. 
He says, “At that time, Mutesa was a student at Kings College Buddo. During his holidays, he lived with us in Bukerere. He often came with a ball and we would play football together. He was a good footballer and very friendly.”
In 1929, Wagaba joined Bukalasa Minor Seminary (now in Kalungu District). Some of his classmates were Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga and the late Monsignor Joseph Kyeyune. The trio were members of the school choir. 
There were only two African teachers on the staff, one of whom was Father Aloysious Ngobya (whose beatification process is being considered). Fr. Ngobya taught Latin and slept on a bed without a mattress. Of the 32 students in the class, only nine made it to Katigondo Major Seminary. Of the nine, only five became priests.
Wagaba’s wife, Caroline Nammande, died on October 17, 1988 in a Uganda Airlines plane crash in Rome, Italy. Together, they had more than a dozen children, many of whom now live and work abroad. Some of his grandchildren Fr. Michael Ssenfuma (the dancing priest) and Fr. Benjamin Lubega are now service priests.

Compassionate : Nsubuga could not imagine a martyrdom site being turned into a shopping mall. COURTESY PHOTO 

 

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By ROBERT MUGAGGA

 COURTESY OF DAILY MONITOR, SUNDAY JUNE 3 2018

 

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Saint Mary's Cathedral Rubaga, commonly referred to as Rubaga Cathedral, is the parent cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala, the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in Uganda. In 1914 the missionaries began constructing a modern cathedral at Lubaga (Rubaga). Construction was completed in 1924 and St. Mary's Cathedral Rubaga was consecrated on 31 December 1925.

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