YUMBE. The Bishop of Arua diocese Rt Rev Sabino Ocan Odoki has asked the government to establish a religious tourism centre at Lodonga minor Basilica.

He said Lodonga minor Basilica being the first Basilica in Africa, the government should take pride in it.

The Bishop was speaking during the celebration of the 60 years of the existence of Lodonga minor Basilica on Saturday.

"This place needs to be given the importance it deserves. We would like to encourage religious tourism to be developed here in this place and if the district can guide us on how to apply to the ministry of tourism so that we put up facilities here that will attract pilgrims and tourists in this place", he said.

"We often talk of our liberation but that liberation should also bring development. Liberation leads to something greater so this place must be recognized", he added.

The Bishop also appealed to the Yumbe district leaders and the central government to expedite the process of tarmacking the Koboko-Yumbe-Moyo road so that the pilgrims can easily access the pilgrim centre at Lodonga minor Basilica.

"With the bad roads, pilgrims face a lot of challenges in accessing the Basilica. Let us improve on the roads in the region, improve the compound of the Basilica and also the services here", the Bishop said.

The Bishop also named two major roads that lead to the Basilica as St Pope John XXIII road and Fr Sartori Bernardo road.

Rt Rev Sabino Ocan OdokiRt Rev Sabino Ocan Odoki unveils the sign post bearing the name of one of the roads connecting to the Basilica on Saturday. PHOTO BY ROBERT ELEMA.

Ms Naima Melsa Avako the Yumbe district woman member of parliament said "My Lord Bishop we are blessed to have a Basilica in Yumbe district, a place that is predominantly occupied by the Muslims. The Basilica has been here, we have found it and we are still going to leave it so my appeal to the community is to use the Basilica to justify peace, unity and love among themselves".

Mr Lawrence Biyika Songa, the chairperson of West Nile parliamentary caucus admitted that the conditions of the roads in the region are very bad but said there are plans to tarmac some of the roads in the area.

He said the plan to tarmac Koboko-Yumbe-Moyo-Laropi road is in the pipeline and that the contract has been awarded with funding from the World Bank adding that the roads in other parts of West Nile region shall also be worked on to connect the pilgrims to the Basilica.

"All the roads in the West Nile region cannot be tarmacked but the local governments can also use the road equipment procured to maintain some of the roads using first class murrum. As West Nile parliamentary caucus, we are going to make follow up on some of the road projects and work on them so that it's easy to access the Basilica", he said.

"The idea of developing the Basilica into a tourist centre is a good one because the tourism sector brings a lot of revenue for the government. This matter can be pushed successfully to the government if the members from the West Nile region cooperate and have one voice on this subject matter," he added.

Dr Jasinto Amandua, the chairperson of the laity in the diaspora said they are going to work with the laity in Arua diocese to ensure that some of the things proposed to improve the face of the Basilica are done.

"We want to see that the Basilica becomes known in the world. In the whole of Uganda, this is the place that can bring peace so we are going to work together as the laity to ensure that we support ourselves so that this place grows", he said.

Background of Lodonga minor Basilica

The title Minor Basilica is bestowed to a church by the Holy See for some significant religious or historical reasons that are of importance to the Christian faith.

Pope John XXIII raised Lodonga parish to the status of a Basilica on 26th, May, 1961 under the title Sultana of Africa.

It's the first Basilica South of Sub-Saharan Africa making Uganda also the first country to have a Basilica in the entries region.

4th minor Basilica and 2nd Marian Basilica in the African continent making Uganda the third country in Africa to have a Basilica after Egypt and Tunisia.

The veneration of Mary as Queen of Africa adds another title of Mary. Considering this history, Lodonga is a blessing to Uganda, many visitors/Catholics including missionaries from Europe and America travel to visit this historic Minor Basilica and get amazed by the sacred architecture of the church and satisfied by the serene or peaceful environment within the church they confess to experiencing a Divine power.

Every 8th, December, Christians within the country and outside make a pilgrimage to Lodonga minor Basilica to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary.