For eight years, Jeremana Muthikwa has been braving a grueling 710-kilometre walk from her home in Machakos to Namugongo Shrine in Uganda.
At the beginning of every month of May, Muthikwa leaves her home and is joined by other believers for a journey that takes them an average one month, to mark Uganda Martyrs Day that is celebrated every June 3.
“It has been a tasking journey but I do it out of faith. Despite my age, I made a commitment to be walking to Uganda every year for Martyrs Day,” Muthikwa says.
The day is celebrated in honour of 45 Catholic and Anglican martyrs who were executed -- tortured then burnt alive -- after converting to Anglican and Catholic faith between 1885 and 1887 when King Mwanga II of Buganda Kingdom disapproved of it.
A shrine was erected at Namugongo in their honour. This is the spot where Basilica Church of the Uganda Martyrs today stands. Every year, Christians from across the world pay homage at the shrine.
On Thursday evening, Muthikwa arrived at Holy Trinity Catholic church in Milimani, Nakuru, with over 100 believers from Machakos Parish, having walked for about 224 kilometres.
“I feel a bit tired but I had a whole night’s rest. I will continue with the journey without boarding any vehicle as I have done in previous years,” Muthikwa said as they prepared for the remainder of the journey.
She said that during her first experience, she walked with a stoop but met some men who gave her a walking stick.
“I carry it as a reminder of where I began, although I no longer use it. Apart from strengthening my faith, this journey has made me fit and I can now walk unassisted,” she says.
Muthikwa, who is also a catechist and a choir member at her local church, is a great inspiration to other pilgrims who walk with her. Among them is Christine Maloba, who is much younger.
“I look at her with admiration, when I see her pushing on, I feel that I too can do it, although I have not attended the celebrations as many times as she has done," Maloba says.
The pilgrims are set to cover 485 kilometres from Nakuru to Namugongo through the Kenya-Uganda border at Busia.
According to Peter Ndonye, who is their team leader, the pilgrims will make 33 stops, and will be hosted by various churches along the route.
“We only walk during the day and at night we walk into Catholic churches on the way and spend the night. We have our meals in these churches before proceeding with the journey,” Ndonye says.
Father Simon Githara, the Holy Trinity Milimani Parish priest led the pilgrims in prayers on Friday morning before they started their journey.
On June 1, they will be joined by other Kenyans from different parts of the country.
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