I sat on the steps leading to the Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine. The whole place was crowded. It was my first time to come to this famous place in Namugongo, Uganda, on 3rd June, the Uganda Martyrs’ day, a day when the Church remembers the martyrdom of the Uganda Martyrs for their religious zeal.
Earlier, I had tried to participate in the mass that was underway, but I realized that there were people who loved God more than I did and they had secured themselves all the vantage points. The only option I was left with was to sit in the sweltering heat and try listening to the proceedings from the mass on the speakers. Of course it was not as interesting as watching the men of God in their priestly colourful garb and the choir with dancing women. Soon, boredom kicked in and I welcomed it by looking around to find something to feed my active imagination.
I didn’t have to look further than the doors of the Shrine. They are heavy wooden doors on which the faces of the martyrs were sculpted. It is an impressive sight if you are a tourist, an artist or one who appreciates good art like I do. But this time, it was not the art that I was appreciating, because, a throng of pilgrims (did I tell you everyone around was supposedly a pilgrim?) were pressing against the doors.
Now this aroused my curiosity.
I stood up from the dusty steps, dusted my rear, and inched forward for a better look.
Most of the people pressing themselves against the door, I realized, were middle-aged and old men and women. They held handkerchiefs and rosaries which they rubbed against the faces of the martyrs. This intrigued me.
Then a gentleman left the bunch. It looked like he had wiped the martyrs’ faces long enough. I noticed that he had tears in his eyes. But it was not only tears. There was a look of desperation on his face.
As I looked at this middle-aged gentleman, dressed in non-descript trousers and a shirt, it dawned on me that this must not be his first time to wipe the faces of the sainted martyrs. And it looked like this time his faith was wavering. My heart went out to him. Whatever his problem was, he had faith in the intercession of the martyrs. And apparently, they had let him down a number of times. He hoped this time they would be considerate.
As the gentleman got lost in the crowd, my attention was drawn to another sight. This one was of a wooden sculpture of one older martyr (Matia Lwanga) baptizing a younger martyr (Kizito Omuto), most probably before their martyrdom. Many people surrounded this one too. They touched the sculpture with Rosaries and other pieces of clothing as they whispered memorized prayers.
One thing was common with all of them: there was desperation in their eyes.
I did not know any of the people around personally, but I could not help but guess the problems they had. That old lady holding a large rosary must be having a chronic illness. That slim gentleman must be suffering from acute poverty. Maybe the young lady over there had a problematic marriage. And who knew if that well-dressed woman at the corner with a plain countenance didn’t have a relative dying of cancer in an Indian hospital?
If God could only hear their pleas!
Couldn’t a God of love see that they had suffered enough for whatever sins they had committed? I was even tempted to ask myself whether there can be a God who loves us, given the pain and suffering in the world. If he really was there, he was not showing it. For goodness’ sake, most of these people had made pilgrimages—that is, walked—from as far as Burundi to come and make their petitions through the sainted martyrs, again.
I am not very sure whether all of them received answers to their prayers. Maybe I’ll never know. But I was very sure that many of them were not making their prayers for the first time. The despondency on their faces showed that they had prayed over and over again and God either seemed not to hear them or was too busy doing other more important things.
It was a hopeless situation for most of them.
All I could do was wonder: where was God?
(Excerpt from What If God Doesn't Really Love You?)