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Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2006, 09:22 GMT
Ugandans flock to concrete cross
Abraham Odeke
BBC News, Osia, eastern Uganda

Rumours that minor ailments and bad habits can be cured after kissing a giant cross atop a high hill in eastern Uganda has Catholic pilgrims flocking to the area.

The concrete cross in eastern Uganda
The giant cross cost more than $4,000 to construct

The new 40-foot cross dominates the rural skyline across Tororo district - even at night it is visible for miles around as it is lit up with huge yellow lights, powered by solar panels.

Since its completion in April, more and more people join the pilgrimage up the hill which takes place on the first Friday of each month.

Most wear canvas shoes for the tough climb and slowly make their way up the path, while singing hymns, their rosary beads dangling around their necks.

At the top they kiss the cross, pray - some in a special night-long session - before preparing for the three-kilometre descent.

"I had been having sleepless nights from the evil spirits in my house," says Margret Atyang, a widow who has made the pilgrimage.

"But right from the time I began going to the top of the hill to pray under the big cross, the evil spirits disappeared from my house.

"Now I spend the nights like any other normal person. This means that Jesus is present on the hill."

Herbal healing

In fact, the area has been rechristened the Hill of Salvation by Father Mathew, an Indian priest who came up with the idea of building the towering concrete cross.

People in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the way up
Statues decorate part of the journey up the hill

"The Hill of Salvation is where Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross. Our Christians now appreciate the fact that they can come and hold special prayers on this small mountain," he says.

His colleague Father Sebastian Nirapel explains that in all religions shrines tend to be built in the highest of places.

"For example, in the Bible's Old Testament, God comes to speak to Moses at the top of a mountain," he says.

And the hill on which Osia village nestles has always been associated with the power of healing.

Its original name was Osukuru, which means a place where people collect medicinal and rare herbs for use in local remedies.

Cement bags

The cross has cost the village's Catholic Parish about $4,350, which it raised from well-wishers abroad.

Map

Paul Ongemi, who organised its construction, said it took 58 bags of cement and 20 workers to erect it.

The Catholic fathers say the cash donations given by pilgrims to the site will assist the poor communities in the Archdiocese of Tororo.

Efforts have also been made to ensure that the entire pilgrimage is a spiritual experience.

On the lower reaches of the climb, pilgrims go through a pass decorated with beautiful statues and stone paintings honouring saints, angels and the Virgin Mary.

Beyond that the Stations of the Cross - a series of 14 paintings which depict Jesus' journey to his crucifixion - have been conspicuously laid out.

At the foot of the hill a large cave, where villagers say foxes and hyenas used to seek sanctuary, has been transformed to resemble Jesus' burial place.

And as Tororo district's main road passes nearby, linking the region to the capital, Kampala, the Hill of Salvation and its concrete cross promises to become an even bigger tourist destination.


To hear more about the pilgrimage tune in to the BBC World Service's Weekend Network Africa on Sunday 17 December.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Uganda
21 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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