Wipolo Catholic Shrine in Paimol, Agago District in Northern Uganda

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Duration 4h
Capacity 1 - 20

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About The Shrine

By the October 18th feast day celebration in the fall of 2015, the wiPolo shrine for the Paimol Martyrs, which serves as the location for the yearly commemoration of the martyrs’ feast day, had been built and finished. The annual pilgrimage to honor the catechists’ deaths as witnesses to Christ has been to Paimol, which is known to the Acholi as the location of the martyrdoms of Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa.

The Paimol Martyrs Shrine of wiPolo was built at the spiritual home of the martyred Ugandans under the direction of Fr. Joseph Okumu, with support from the Archdiocese of Gulu, sponsorship, Giuseppe Nicora’s architectural ideas, and the assistance of ARS Construction.

The undying light of martyrs Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa

The martyrs Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa were two young Acholi catechists at the beginning of the 20th century. They belonged to northern Uganda’s Acholi people – a subdivision of the larger Lwo group whose members even today live mostly in North Uganda, but are also present in Southern Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They lived and were martyred in the years immediately following the foundation of the mission station of Kitgum in 1915 by the Comboni Missionaries from Italy.

Okelo and Irwa reached the Kitgum mission station to become catechumens. Together with all the other young people, they first received the medals of Our Lady, signs that they were ready to undertake two years of instructions in the catechumenate, and they proudly wore them on their necks and committed themselves to learn the catechism of Pius X, translated into Acholi by Fr Pasquale Crazzolara. They took this period of preparation for the sacraments very seriously. Tommaso Alenga, who was their fellow catechumen in Kitgum, was to testify later that Okelo took the instructions seriously and always showed that he wanted to pass on to others the Christian faith he so much desired to learn about.

Irwa was an equally determined young lad. His Father Mr. Daniel Okeny nicknamed Tongfur testified that he himself had to take food to the catechumenate in Kitgum because his son was so much taken up in the very first instance that he did not care to return home to eat.

After receiving the sacrament of confirmation, Daudi and Jildo asked to be enlisted as catechists and to receive the required preparation. They returned to their homes in Ogom-payira and Labongo Bar-kituba but remained in direct contact with the missionaries of Kitgum for almost two years. They felt ready to be appointed as catechists themselves. The opportunity came when Antonio, the catechist responsible for the village of Paimol and a cousin of Okelo Daudi, passed away. Paimol was some 80 kilometers east of Kitgum. From the social point of view, Paimol was a group of organized villages ruled by Chief Lakidi. His deputy, Mukungu Ogal, lived there on a lovely high plain surrounded by mountains. Ogal’s house was proudly called Palamuku, “a place with many villages.” It was on an, lot or a flat grazing ground for cows and goats. It would be on this ground that the blood of the two martyrs would become like a seed for Christianity to germinate, water, grow and bear abundant fruits. Palamuku would become wi polo (in heaven) as it will be called by the Christians after the sacrifice of Okelo Daudi and Irwa Jildo.

The martyrdom of these two young catechists of northern Uganda is very meaningful for the current events the country is going through. It is a matter, first of all, of two young lay catechists who together carried out and remained faithful to their assignment to spread the Gospel by words and deeds. Secondly, by courageously accepting to go to a place without the confines of their own clan, they have become in their environment a sign of the catholicity and unity of the Church. Thirdly having lived during a period of tribal fighting forced colonial administration and still flourishing domestic slavery, they represent the integrity of the Gospel that always protects and safeguards personal dignity and promotes peace and reconciliation among peoples, ethnic groups, and cultures. For this, even today they are remembered in their land as Christ’s true “witnesses by blood”

Pope John Paul II now Saint John Paul II beatified the two in Rome in 2002, and the local church in Uganda celebrates their beatification every year on the 20th of October. Beautiful building construction is springing up in Paimol, the place of their martyrdom, and multitudes of people from all over the Great Lakes region of Africa come to this place every year to testify to the discipleship of Jesus and the apostleship of his Gospel to all mankind.

The wiPolo Shrine in Paimol in Agago district is still part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu in the eastern end, at the border with Karamoja. wiPolo is easy to find; once in Gulu which is the regional capital of northern Uganda, you travel the tarmac road to Kitgum, some 100 kilometers to the north east; from there, you go straight to Kalongo parish, under which Paimol is Paimol its outstation. Or once in Lira you again take the Lira-Kitgum road to a 38 km point at Corner Kilak where you turn east and reach Patongo where at the 28th kilometer stone a slight curve on your left to the north presents the Kalongo mountain ranges in your face. Kalongo is just 25 kilometers from here and wiPolo Shrine in Paimol is about 15 kilometers. Easy.

Salient points of Beatification.

  • November 1917 Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa travel in the company of Head Catechists Bonifacio Okot to Paimol.
  • October 18th, 1918 or there about Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa are killed by spearing (Daudi Okelo was speared by Okedi Lunyomoi, and Jildo Irwa was speared by Opio Akadamoi two sons of Ogal Lowamoi). The news spread in the areas of Paimol, Omiya paCwaa, and up to Kitgum where in 1926 Monsignor Vignato in the company of seminarian Bala Donasiano plans a pastoral visit to Palamuku location of Paimol to collect the remains of the two catechists then left in a dead anthill to give them a decent burial in the parish Church of Kitgum.
  • 1933 July the first report on the killing of Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa by Fr Antonio Vignato comes out in Italy (La Nigrizia) entitled: Ricordando due giovani eroi in English, Remembering the two young heroes.
  • 1934 the Apostolic Prefecture of Equatorial Nile became Apostolic Vicariate with its own first bishop Monsignor Angelo Negri; Monsignor Vignato leaves Uganda and in 1937 becomes the General Superior of the Verona Fathers to serve the institute in this position until 1947.
  • 1935 Bishop Angelo Negri officially takes over the new Apostolic Vicariate of equatorial Nile; no bed of roses as World War II breaks out with Italy on the opposing side of England. Bishop Angelo Negri and all his priests get interned far down south of Uganda in Masaka for eighteen months. They will be released on parole but remain still under surveillance.
  • 1940 March Bishop Angelo Negri writes to assure Monsignor Vignato now Superior General in Rome he would take up the matter of instituting the canonical process investigating the asserted martyrdom of David Okelo and Jildo Irwa. In a separate letter to Fr Audisio, he regrets that he destroyed the brief notes he received not thinking they would one day be useful. From the notes, however, he had written his La tragedia di Paimol romanticized story of the martyrdom. In April of the same year, Monsignor Vignato writes to Bishop Angelo Negri he was convinced the death of the two catechists was not political. The Bishop dies in November 1949 while on a pastoral visit to Arua, the far western end of the Apostolic Vicariate but his wish to open a canonical process of beatification does not.
  • 1951 August 6, Fr Vincenzo Pellegrini writes to the new Bishop Monsignor John Baptist Cesana to tell him Monsignor Angelo Negri had asked him to collect and complete some testimonies he heard from the people of Kitgum under oath. Fr Pellegrini himself finds so well spread among the people of Kitgum the story about the killing of the two catechists. He collects the story into a book that would become an Acholi language composition text Acoli Macon (1951) for all Primary schools.
  • 1951 Fr Vittorio Albertini was posted to Gulu to teach in the seminary of the inter vicariate and begins to interrogate witnesses to the killing of the two catechists.
  • 1952- 1953 Professor Albertini collects all the existing testimonies including Fr Pellegrini’s collections in his Acholi Macon on the martyrdom of Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa
  • 1953 May 5 the collected testimonies, sent to Rome by Monsignor Cesana in all 300 pages and carefully studied by Mr. De Heredia who made his own positive observations in 32 pages favoring the beatification; Sneider the Advocate in the causes of saints in Rome who also analyzed carefully the first data collected whispered to Fr Agostino Capovilla Postulator and Procurator General of the Comboni Missionaries that the collected data were very much supportive of the credible case of martyrdom.
  • 1953 May Fr Capovilla procurator general and postulator who had already been much encouraged by the opinion of Mr. De Heredia and Sneider carefully guarded the data collected by Fr Vittorio Albertini and sent it back to Gulu in the hope that it would help institute the informative process of beatification. Unfortunately, the canonical informative process could not start for many reasons such as; a lack of additional competent personnel, and the political independence dust rising just after World War II. All did not augur well for the beatification process; Missionaries were mainly overtaken by trepidation and zealous territorial conquest.
  • 1968 Monsignor Cesana resigns due to ill health and in the following year, native Cypriano Kihangire succeeded him. The political situation grew worse and culminated in the expulsion in 1975 by Dictator Idi Amin Dada of some missionaries.
  • 1969 -1999: firmly in the hands of the indigenous Church, the process of beatification of Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa must survive three military dictatorships one after another.
  • 1969 Pope Paul VI visits Uganda and indeed Africa as a whole where he entrusts the Catholic Church in Uganda and all its missionary activities including beatification process to the Africans when he said: “Africa, be missionaries to your selves”.
  • 1994 twenty-six years later Pope Holy Father now St. John Paul II in his Apostolic letter Tertio Millenio Adveniente 37 that opened the door to the third millennium was more explicit: “In our century martyrs have reappeared, often unrecognized, almost ‘unknown soldiers’ of God’s great cause. Insofar as possible, their witness must not be lost to the Church. It is necessary that the local Churches do their utmost, by collecting the necessary documentation, not to let the memory of those who underwent martyrdom perish”.
  • 1996 held a diocesan synod that saw the reopening of the Paimol case that was somehow shelved in 1953.
  • 1997 opened with the new canonical process of beatification of Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa overseen by Monsignor Martin Luluga Ordinary of the Diocese of Gulu. In session 3 of the diocesan process of investigation, Bishop Martin Luluga approves the prayer of veneration of the two catechists on the feast of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven:
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What to expect more from Paimol?

Paimol Rock climbing and the Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine are the main dishes to eat in Paimol, Agago District. The Beautiful Culture and social being of the locals are amazing.