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103rd Irwa, Okello Memorial Prayers Suspended over Covid-19

More than 500 people including pilgrims and businessmen had by Tuesday afternoon pitched camp at the shrine with just a handful observing the standard operating procedures-SOPs.
Some of the pilgrims who have been dispersed from Wipolo martry's shrine in Paimol on Tuesday afternoon
The Agago District Covid-19 taskforce has suspended prayers to mark the 103rd-anniversary of the martyrdom of Jildo Irwa and Daudi Okello.

The decision follows concerns over the surging numbers of Christians thronging Wi-polo Martyr's shrine in Paimol Sub  County ahead of the main commemoration slated for Wednesday.

More than 500 people including pilgrims and businessmen had by Tuesday afternoon pitched camp at the shrine with just a handful observing the standard operating procedures- SOPs.

Suzan Akany, Agago Resident District Commissioner says that suspending the prayers will help contain the spread of covid-19.

Akany says the majority of the Christians flocking the martyr’s shrine haven’t been vaccinated, have no face masks, putting their lives and that of others at risk.  She says the district doesn’t have adequate resources to conduct mass testing of all those intending to attend the prayers, leaving them with no choice but to suspend the prayers.

According to Akany, although the President allowed 200 people to attend prayers, the favour won’t be extended to the Christians since many are still on the way, and would be hard to limit their numbers.

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According to statistics from the Health Department, the district has so far registered 14 covid-19 deaths with the majority of the cases in recent weeks. The cumulative positive cases as of Tuesday stood at 669.

She asked Christians still on their way to return to their homes while those intending to set off to should pray from home.

Akany noted that following the directives to suspend the prayers, pilgrims, and traders who had camped at the martyr’s shrine have been asked to voluntarily vacate the venue.

“We are on the ground telling them to go away. We cannot limit their numbers. How can you determine who is to enter or who is not to enter?" she asked.

But Fred Labali, a pilgrim from Holy Rosary Parish in Gulu city says the decision was rushed since they don’t have anywhere else to sleep apart from the shrine.

Labali notes that they are willing to follow the SOPs and asked to be allowed to continue with the prayers. Labali is among some 193 pilgrims who moved on foot for over 150 kilometres from Gulu and Nwoya to Paimol Martyr’s shrine for the memorial prayers.

The Police and Uganda People’s Defence Force-UPDF soldiers have been heavily deployed at all entrance points at the Martyr’s shrine to disperse pilgrims and businessmen by press time. 

Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa were Acholi catechists killed around 1918 for devoting their lives to teaching Christianity. They were beatified by his holiness Pope John Paul II on October 20, 2002, among the 22 other Roman Catholic martyrs in Uganda.

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