June 3: SAINTS CHARLES LWANGA AND COMPANIONS, MARTYRS OF UGANDA. Short biographical account and a sermon St. Pope Paul VI
St. Charles Lwanga (1865–1886) was a Ugandan Catholic catechist martyred for his faith on June 3. He was born in the kingdom of Buganda in the southern part of modern Uganda, and served as a page and later major-domo in the court of King Mwanga II. As part of the king’s effort to resist foreign colonization, he wanted Christian converts to abandon their new faith. He executed many Anglicans and Catholics between 1885 and 1887, many of whom were officials in the royal court or otherwise very close to him, above all, because St. Charles and his companion martyrs did not tolerate and give into the libidinous desires of the king.
St. Charles Lwanga and companion martyrs are the patrons of the African Catholic Youth Action, converts, torture victims. Below you have an interesting account of the reason of their martyrdom taken from wikipedia.
The persecution started in 1885 after Mwanga, a ritual pedophile, ordered a massacre of Anglican missionaries, including Bishop James Hannington who was the leader of the Anglican community. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, the Catholic major-domo of the court and a lay catechist, reproached the king for the killings, against which he had counseled him. Mwanga had Balikuddembe beheaded and arrested all of his followers on 15 November 1885. The king then ordered that Lwanga, who was chief page at that time, take up Balikuddembe’s duties. That same day, Lwanga and other pages under his protection sought baptism as Catholics by a missionary priest of the White Fathers; some hundred catechumens were baptized. Lwanga often protected boys in his charge from the king’s perverse sexual advances.
On 25 May 1886, Mwanga ordered a general assembly of the court while they were settled at Munyonyo, where he condemned two of the pages to death. The following morning, Lwanga secretly baptized those of his charges who were still only catechumens. Later that day, the king called a court assembly in which he interrogated all present to see if any would renounce Christianity. Led by Lwanga, the royal pages declared their fidelity to their religion, upon which the king condemned them to death, directing that they be marched to the traditional place of execution. Three of the prisoners, Pontian Ngondwe, Athanasius Bazzekuketta, and Gonzaga Gonza, were murdered on the march there.
When preparations were completed and the day had come for the execution on 3 June 1886, Lwanga was separated from the others by the Guardian of the Sacred Flame for private execution, in keeping with custom. As he was being burnt, Lwanga said to the Guardian, “It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me.“
Twelve Catholic boys and men and nine Anglicans were then burnt alive. Another Catholic, Mbaga Tuzinde, was clubbed to death for refusing to renounce Christianity, and his body was thrown into the furnace to be burned along with those of Lwanga and the others. The ire of the king was particularly inflamed against the Christians because they refused to participate in sexual acts with him. Lwanga, in particular, had protected the pages. The executions were also motivated by Mwanga’s broader efforts to avoid foreign threats to his power. According to Assa Okoth, Mwanga’s overriding preoccupation was for the “integrity of his kingdom”, and perceived that men such as Lwanga were working with foreigners in “poisoning the very roots of his kingdom”. Not to have taken any action could have led to suggestions that he was a weak sovereign.
Lwanga senior and the other Christians who accompanied him in death were canonized on 18 October 1964 by Pope Paul VI during the Vatican II. “To honor these African saints, Paul VI became the first reigning pope to visit sub-Saharan Africa when he toured Uganda in July 1969, a visit that included a pilgrimage to the site of the martyrdom at Namugongo”. Below you have an excerpt of his homily.
A sermon by Pope Paul VI
The glory of the martyrs – a sign of rebirth
The African martyrs add another page to the martyrology – the Church’s roll of honour – an occasion both of mourning and of joy. This is a page worthy in every way to be added to the annals of that Africa of earlier times which we, living in this era and being men of little faith, never expected to be repeated.
In earlier times there occurred those famous deeds, so moving to the spirit, of the martyrs of Scilli, of Carthage, and of that “white robed army” of Utica commemorated by Saint Augustine and Prudentius; of the martyrs of Egypt so highly praised by Saint John Chrysostom, and of the martyrs of the Vandal persecution. Who would have thought that in our days we should have witnessed events as heroic and glorious? Who could have predicted that to the famous African confessors and martyrs such as Cyprian, Felicity, Perpetua and – the greatest of all – Augustine, we would one day add names so dear to us as Charles Lwanga and Matthias Mulumba Kalemba and their 20 companions? Nor must we forget those members of the Anglican Church who also died for the name of Christ.
These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only the mind of man might be directed not towards persecutions and religious conflicts but towards a rebirth of Christianity and civilisation! Africa has been washed by the blood of these latest martyrs, the first of this new age (and, God willing, let them be the last, although such a holocaust is precious indeed). Africa is reborn free and independent.
The infamous crime by which these young men were put to death was so unspeakable and so expressive of the times. It shows us clearly that a new people needs a moral foundation, needs new spiritual customs firmly planted, to be handed down to posterity. Symbolically, this crime also reveals that a simple and rough way of life – enriched by many fine human qualities yet enslaved by its own weakness and corruption – must give way to a more civilised life wherein the higher expressions of the mind and better social conditions prevail.
O God, who have made the blood of Martyrs the seed of Christians, mercifully grant that the field which is your Church, watered by the bloodshed by Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, may be fertile and ever yield you an abundant harvest. Through our Lord.
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