Saints and Theology of the Heart - St. Charles Lwanga and Companions

Martyrs of Uganda

Feast: June 3

The Society of African Missionaries, known as the White Fathers, were a part of the evangelization of Africa in the 19th century.  After bring in Uganda six years they already had a community of converts whose faith would be a witness to the entire Church.  The exemplary life of the Christians initially won the favor of King Mtesa but later he understood that CHurstians opposed his business of the slave trade.  

Mwanga succedded hhis father to the throne.  At the beginning hte situation of the Christians improved and several recieved important positions in the court.  But the king, influenced by Islam, fell into a homosexual tendency.  The situation o fthe Christians, but not ceding to the kings demand, became very difficult. 

The leader of the Catholic communitywhich had aroudn 200 members at the time, was a Young man of 25 named José Mkasa (Mukasa) who held a very high position in the court of Mwanga.  When Mwanga assasinated a protestant missionary and his companions, José Mkasa confronted the King for his crime.  King Mwanga had been a friend of José for a long time, but when he exhorted Mwanga to ronounce to evil. His reaction was violent.  The King commanded that José be killed.  When the executioners tried to tie the hands of José, he told them, “A Christian that has surrendered his life ot God is not afraid to die.”  He forgave Mwanga with all his heart and made a final petition fro repentence before they cut off his head and burned it on November 15, 1885. 

Charls Lwanga, the favorite of the King, replaced José in the instruction and leadership of the Christian community in the court.  He also made it possible to evangelize and protect the men from the desires of lust of the King.  The persecution of the king lessened for six months.  But in May 1886 it began again with even greater fury after finding out that some in his court were receiving religious instruction.

He orderer that the palace be sealed so that nobody could escape and called his executioners.  Understanding what was happening, Charles Lwanga baptized four catechumens that night, including a young man of 13 named Kizito. In the morning, Mwanga brought his entire court together and seperated the Christians fromthe rest, saying, ‘Those who do not pray stay with me.  Those that pray go over there.”  He asked the 15 young men, all under the age of 25, if they were Christians and intended to continue being Christians.  They all said “yes” and Mwanga condemned them to death.

The king forced them to walk 37 miles to the place of their execution.  Along the way they passed the house of the White Fathers, who were witnesses of their courage and joy as they marched toward their martyrdom. 
When the survivors arrived in Numugongo, they were imprisoned for 3 days and then bound to cane poles and placed on a pyre to be burned.  13 Catholics and 11 Protestants died proclaiming the name of Jesus and saying, “You can burn our bodies but you cannot harm our souls.”

We do not know how many martyrs were the result of this persecution.  There is only a record of those who held a place in the court or held positions of some importance. 

When the White Fathers were thrown out of the country, the new christians continued the missionary work, translating and printing the catechism in their native language and teaching the fasith in secret.  They did not have any priests but the Lord placed the grace of conquering with great courage within the Ugandan Christians.  When the White Fathers returned after the death of Mwanga they found 500 Christians and 100 catechumens waiting for them.  

The martyrs of Uganda were canonized by Pope Benedict XV on June 6, 1920.  


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