For those of us who think that the faith and zeal of the early Christians died out as the Church grew more safe and powerful through the centuries, the martyrs of Uganda are a reminder that persecution of Christians continues in modern times, even to the present day.
The Society of Missionaries of Africa (known as the White Fathers) had only been in Uganda for 6 years and yet they had built up a community of converts whose faith would outshine their own. The earliest converts were soon instructing and leading new converts that the White Fathers couldn't reach. Many of these converts lived and taught at King Mwanga's court.
King Mwanga was a violent ruler and pedophile who forced himself on the young boys and men who served him as pages and attendants. The Christians at Mwanga's court who tried to protect the pages from King Mwanga.
When Mwanga killed a Protestant missionary and his companions, Joseph Mkasa confronted Mwanga and condemned his action. Mwanga had always liked Joseph but when Joseph dared to demand that Mwanga change his lifestyle, Mwanga forgot their long friendship. After striking Joseph with a spear, Mwanga ordered him killed. When the executioners tried to tie Joseph's hands, he told them, "A Christian who gives his life for God is not afraid to die." He forgave Mwanga with all his heart but made one final plea for his repentance before he was beheaded and then burned on November 15, 1885.
Charles Lwanga took over the instruction and leadership of the Christian community at court -- and the charge of keeping the young boys and men out of Mwanga's hands. Perhaps Joseph's plea for repentance had had some affect on Mwanga because the persecution died down for six months.
Anger and suspicion must have been simmering in Mwanga, however. In May 1886 he called one of his pages named Mwafu and asked what the page had been doing that kept him away from Mwanga. When the page replied that he had been receiving religious instruction from Denis Sebuggwawo, Mwanga's temper boiled over. He had Denis brought to him and killed him himself by thrusting a spear through his throat.
He then ordered that the royal compound be sealed and guarded so that no one could escape and summoned the country's executioners. Knowing what was coming, Charles Lwanga baptized four catechumens that night, including a thirteen-year-old named Kizito. The next morning Mwanga brought his whole court before him and separated the Christians from the rest by saying, "Those who do not pray stand by me, those who do pray stand over there." He demanded of the fifteen boys and young men (all under 25) if they were Christians and intended to remain Christians. When they answered "Yes" with strength and courage Mwanga condemned them to death.
He commanded that the group be taken on a 37 mile trek to the place of execution at Namugongo. The chief executioner begged one of the boys, his own son, Mabaga, to escape and hide but Mbaga refused. The cruelly-bound prisoners passed the home of the White Fathers on their way to execution. Father Lourdel remembered thirteen-year-old Kizito laughing and chattering. Lourdel almost fainted at the courage and joy these condemned converts, his friends, showed on their way to martyrdom. Three of these faithful were killed on road.
A Christian soldier named James Buzabaliawo was brought before the king. When Mwanga ordered him to be killed with the rest, James said, "Goodbye, then. I am going to Heaven, and I will pray to God for you." When a griefstricken Father Lourdel raised his hand in absolution as James passed, James lifted his own tied hands and pointed up to show that he knew he was going to heaven and would meet Father Lourdel there. With a smile he said to Lourdel, "Why are you so sad? This nothing to the joys you have taught us to look forward to."
Also condemned were Andrew Kagwa, a Kigowa chief, who had converted his wife and several others, and Matthias Murumba (or Kalemba) an assistant judge. The chief counsellor was so furious with Andrew that he proclaimed he wouldn't eat until he knew Andrew was dead. When the executioners hesitated Andrew egged them on by saying, "Don't keep your counsellor hungry -- kill me." When the same counsellor described what he was going to do with Matthias, he added, "No doubt his god will rescue him." "Yes," Matthias replied, "God will rescue me. But you will not see how he does it, because he will take my soul and leave you only my body." Matthias was cut up on the road and left to die -- it took him at least three days.
The original caravan reached Namugongo and the survivors were kept imprisoned for seven days. On June 3, they were brought out, wrapped in reed mats, and placed on the pyre. Mbaga was killed first by order of his father, the chief executioner, who had tried one last time to change his son's mind. The rest were burned to death. Thirteen Catholics and eleven Protestants died. They died calling on the name of Jesus and proclaiming, "You can burn our bodies, but you cannot harm our souls."
When the White Fathers were expelled from the country, the new Christians carried on their work, translating and printing the catechism into their natively language and giving secret instruction on the faith. Without priests, liturgy, and sacraments their faith, intelligence, courage, and wisdom kept the Catholic Church alive and growing in Uganda. When the White Fathers returned after King Mwanga's death, they found five hundred Christians and one thousand catchumens waiting for them. The twenty-two Catholic martyrs of the Uganda persecution were canonized.Prayer:
Martyrs of Uganda, pray for the faith where it is danger and for Christians who must suffer because of their faith. Give them the same courage, zeal, and joy you showed. And help those of us who live in places where Christianity is accepted to remain aware of the persecution in other parts of the world. Amen
St. Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses and Quisquina, was a descendant of the great Charlemagne. She was born at Palermo in Sicily. In her youth, her heart turned from earthly vanities to ... continue readingMore Saint of the Day
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin (Feast day November 13) St. Frances was born in Lombardi, Italy in 1850, one of thirteen children. At eighteen, she desired to become a Nun, but poor health stood in her way. She helped her parents until their death, and then worked ... continue readingMore Female Saints
St. Michael the Archangel - Feast day - September 29th The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief ... continue reading
The name Gabriel means "man of God," or "God has shown himself mighty." It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the ... continue reading
The people of Olkusz in Bohemia in 1431 had every reason to be suspicious of their new pastor. They knew what a Cracow professor would think of their small rural town. But even more insulting, their ... continue reading
By Deacon Keith A Fournier
Over the centuries, the Jesuits have been relied upon by Popes as trustworthy, heroic soldiers for Jesus Christ and His Church. Yes, there have been times when the company seemed to lose its fervor. However, Jesus Christ the King has always sent His Spirit to ... continue readingMore Christian Saints & Heroes