In 1879, two French missionaries crossed Lake Victoria and landed on the Kigungu Peninsular. They were the first Catholic missionaries to arrive in Uganda, and an annual pilgrimage still convenes at the site of their landing.
Today, Christianity is the dominant religion in Uganda. The majority of the population (around 80 percent) is Christian, with almost 40 percent identifying as Roman Catholic. And it all began when two French missionaries landed on the northern shores of Lake Victoria.
On April 22, 1878, the First Caravan of a Roman Catholic society known as the White Fathers left Marseilles for Africa. The missionaries landed on Zanzibar on June 17, before heading on foot into the African interior.
It was a challenging journey through unknown territory, and when the caravan reached Lake Victoria, only two of the group decided to push on across the lake. These two men, Father Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans, crossed the lake and arrived near Entebbe on the Kigungu Peninsular on February 17, 1879—a day known recognized as the arrival of Catholicism in Uganda.
The two missionaries continued north, passing through Kisubi and Rubaga, by which time their arrival had been brought to the attention of Muteesa I, the Kabaka (King) of the Kingdom of Buganda (a subnational kingdom which still exists in Uganda today). Muteesa I ordered that the two French missionaries be taken to Kitebi, where they spent 15 days, both suffering from fever.
It was a crucial time for the missionaries. Food was scarce, and without approval from the king, their fates were very much in the balance. But on February 23, as the two men battled their fevers, Muteesa I sanctioned their arrival and sent canoes across the lake to bring the rest of the caravan to Uganda.
Not long after, the missionaries visited Muteesa I at his capital of Banda-Kampala. He gave them Lubya Hill on which to build churches, schools, and hospitals. The king, meanwhile, continued to court other new arrivals, including Arab traders and Muslim missionaries, while at the same time fathering 98 children with his 87 wives. He was, if nothing else, a very busy man.
Today, a brick monument marks the spot on which the two missionaries first landed in Uganda. At either side of the monument are statues of the two men, both kneeling, one in prayer and the other with hands raised towards the heavens. A plaque on the monument reads: “On this spot landed the first Catholic missionaries of Uganda on the 17th day of February in the year of our Lord 1879; Reverend Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans of the society of the White Fathers.”
Since the 1960s, the site has become an increasingly important pilgrimage destination among Uganda’s Catholic population. Each year on February 17, hundreds of pilgrims travel to Kigungu to commemorate the arrival of Christianity in Uganda, and to pay their respects to Father Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans.
Know Before You Go
The monument is located near the Kigungu Catholic Church in Kigungu. The village is about three miles from Entebbe, and right next to Entebbe International Airport.