By Fred Kiva, Kagadi
The Catholic Church in Kagadi district is at battle with residents over a piece of land in Rutete Sub County.
Both parties claim ownership of the land neighbouring Mount Sion Catholic Pilgrimage Site on Bikira Maria Hills in Bufundi Village.
Mount Sion Pilgrimage site is one of the Catholic Church sacred sites where believers annually pay pilgrimage and hold prayers. It’s believed that Mother Mary once appeared in the area. Believers visit the Bikira Maria Hills on August 15 every year.
Mugalike Catholic Parish Lands Officer, Reverend Father Mathius Ssekyanzi, says the church has lived with the residents peacefully and some have been using the church land until last year when they started claiming its ownership. Father Ssekyanzi explains that trouble started after the death of the Parish Lands Officer, Andrea Kiwanuka in May 2016.
“We have been living with the residents, some have been using the church land; others would even grow perennial crops on the land against the church policy. Our conflict however started last year after the death of the Parish Lands Officer. It’s like they were relieved knowing that they would use the land freely,” said Father Ssekyanzi.
The church claims to own 117acres of land, but Rutete Sub county Chairman, Edward Bamanya who asserts to have been around when the church was given the land in 1978 says the church only owns 50acres.
“I don’t believe the residents are grabbing the church land, it’s the church that wants to take their land instead,” said Bamanya in an interview. “The church and the residents were both given land by Kagadi Resettlement Scheme in 1978, the land was surveyed and cultivable land given to residents and the Bikira Maria Rock Hills, an area of about 50acres was given to the church,” He added.
Bamanya accuses the church of claiming additional land from the neibouring land. He says his office has intervened in the matter and directed both parties to contribute money for a joint survey as a move to end the conflict.
The local leader says however the church is not cooperative. But father Ssekyanzi accuses the LC3 Chairman of siding with residents to fight the church, “He blocked us from using the land in March this year, but the residents are working, he has also continued to meet those seeking to grab church land”, said Ssekyanzi.
Father Ssekyanzi names the families of John Mariko, Late Kyaguhangire and Late Robert Mbetabaitu, as those leading the move to grab the church land. None of the named families were available for comment.
The church leaders complain that the conflict has hindered their projects on the disputed land, as they have been blocked from using it since March this year.
At the time authorities blocked activities on the contested land, the church was constructing a permanent church house, which is now stalled. Fr Ssekyanzi says that the church can’t now carryout routine maintenance of the road leading to the pilgrimage site, which also harbors a primary school.
Mid July, five Christians were severely beaten by residents as they tried to access the contested area. Sofia Tugumisirize, 62 and Mary Mbonimpa, 40 are some of the Christians claiming to have been attacked by a group of seven men on July 13.They say their attackers warned them never to step on the land again. Tugumisirize is nursing a hand injury, while Mbonimpa is being treated for the chest pain.
Father Ssekyanzi says although some suspects were arrested in connection with the attack, they were released with the aid of the sub county leadership. This website could not readily speak to Romeo Ojara, the Kagadi District Police Commander on the residents attack.
The Kagadi Resident District Commissioner, Salim Komakech says the matter was recently brought to his office, but he directed the Sub county leadership to handle it.