Catholic churches across the world are in stiff competition for the relics of two Ugandan martyrs, Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa.
The churches want to keep portions of the relics within their auditorium to inspire, encourage and motivate Christians to remain steadfast in their faith amidst suffering and human challenges.
Father Joseph Okumu, the rector of Wipolo Martyrs Shrine in Agago district, where the two martyrs were speared to death in 1918 on account of their faith, says many churches across the globe desperately seek to host the relics of the martyrs annually.
Father Okumu says this year alone, he has received requests and distributed portions of the relics to some churches in Romania, Brazil, Argentina, United States, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Kenya and Tanzania among others.
The two catechists completed their catechumen formation from St. Mary’s Kitgum parish in 1916 and were shortly after commissioned to evangelize Paimol following the death of Father Antonio, a missionary priest. Paimol was an area in East Acholi deeply rooted in famine, cultural beliefs and practices, slave trade and witchcraft.
Catechists Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa, were hounded, threatened and ordered to give up their religious activities before they were finally speared to death by assailants believed to have been sent by Rwot Ogal, the Chief of Paimol sub clan, on October 18, 1918.
A book titled ‘Too long in the Dark, authored by Father Mario Marchetti, one of the many Comboni Missionaries who served at St. Mary’s Catholic Mission in Kitgum, quotes Akadamoi, one of the executioners as saying they were sent by Rwot Ogal. Other sources blame slave traders from South Sudan and Ethiopia as the catechists preached against their activities.
Father Okumu says the two catechists are remembered for introducing a new dimension of faith, generosity, and love for humanity, humility and courage for sharing the good news of the gospel with the people. He says many churches around the world ask for their relics to introduce these characteristics among their congregations.
Major portions of their preserved relics are being kept in three churches in Gulu Archdiocese including St. Joseph Cathedral in Gulu town, St. Mary’s Catholic Mission Kitgum and at the location of their martyrdom in Wipolo Martyrs Shrine in Paimol Sub County, Agago district.
At St. Mary’s Parish in Kitgum, a piece of humerus bone, the jaw bone and a skull are jointly being kept tightly in enclosed square wooden box with a transparent glass face under lock and key in front of the alter of the main chapel. Anniversaries of the two martyrs making up the 23rd and 24th Catholic martyrs in Uganda are celebrated every October 20th at Wipolo Martyrs Shrine in Paimol, following their beatification by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
Father Anthony Nyeko, the Parish priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Kitgum district, says the Churches write through the Archbishop of Gulu John Baptist Odama.
Father Nyeko explains that bishops of churches intending to receive portions of relics of saints and martyrs write through the presiding bishop of a martyr detailing the intended use of the relics. The bishops then engage in discussions before the relics are sent.