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+ Charles Lwanga and Companions (Ugandan Martyrs) MM (RM)

Died at Namugongo, Uganda, 1885-1887; beatified in 1920; canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964; feast added to the Roman Calendar in 1969; declared the protomartyrs of Black Africa. Twenty-two Catholic men, including seventeen young pages between the ages of 13 and 30, plus some Protestants, were martyred by King Mwanga of Uganda. Their heroic courage rivaled that of the early martyrs.

Catholic Christianity began to take root in Uganda after Cardinal Lavigerie's White Fathers established missions in central Africa in 1879. Progress was made under the rule of the not unfriendly local chieftain named Mtesa; however, his successor, Mwanga detested the faith that would accuse him of debauchery.

King Mwanga of Uganda took as chief steward a young Christian named Joseph Msaka Balikuddembe. Joseph detested the king's debauched ways, especially his attempts to corrupt other young men of Uganda, whom the steward tried to protect. Mwanga distrusted foreign visitors, fearing they might report his evil ways to the British government, which had given him his power.

In October 1885, Mwanga ordered his followers to kill an Anglican missionary, Bishop James Hannington. The Catholic steward Joseph protested at the murder of a fellow Christian. The following month, Mwanga had him beheaded. "A Christian who gives his life for God is not afraid to die," Joseph proclaimed. "Mwanga has condemned me without cause; but tell him I forgive him from my heart." To the king's astonishment, the Christians were not cowed by his sudden outrage.

Six months later Mwanga's savagery was even worse. He discovered that a 14-year-old page, Mwafu, had been receiving instruction in the Catholic faith. He called for Denis Sebuggwago, who had been teaching the page, and killed him by thrusting a butcher's cleaver through his throat. That night Charles Lwanga, the new master of the pages, baptized five of them including Kizito, who he had repeatedly rescued from Mwanga's pederasty.

The next day the baptisms were discovered. Enraged, Mwanga assembled all the pages and ordered the Christians to separate themselves from the others. Fifteen, all under the age of 25, did so at once and were later joined by two others who were already under arrest and by two soldiers. They were asked if they wished to remain Christian and each replied, "Until death." The king then ordered every Protestant and Catholic living in the royal enclosure to be put to death.

Thirty-two Catholics and Protestants were led 37 miles away to a place called Namugongo to be burned to death in a literal holocaust. Three were killed on the way. One of these, a district judge named Matthias Kalemba, declared, "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." He was cut into pieces and left to die slowly by the roadside.

The rest of the martyrs were taken to Namugongo. They were imprisoned there for seven days while a huge pyre was prepared. At the appointed time on Ascension Day, they were forced to lie down on reed mats. Wrapped up in the mats and tightly bound, they were laid side by side. Fuel was poured on them, and they were set afire. As their executioners sang barbarously, the martyrs died confidently praying to their Savior.

The persecution spread. A leader among the confessors was Matthias Murumba, who was killed with revolting cruelty. During the reign of Mwanga about 100 Christians of various denominations were martyred.

* Andrew Kagwa (Kaggwa, d. 1886) was a native chief of Kigowa and the royal bandmaster of King Mwanga. He was baptized in 1881, converted his wife, and became active in missionary work. He had gathered a large body of catechumens around him. Condemned to death for the faith, he right arm was severed from his body before he was beheaded.

* Charles Lwanga (d. 1886) was a servant of the king, who was baptized in November 1885 and martyred the following June. He succeeded Joseph Mkasa as master of the pages and continued his predecessor's censure of the king's homosexual practices and corruption of the young pages. This intensified King Mwanga's hatred of Catholics.

* Denis (Dionysius) Sebuggwago (Sebuggwawo) (d. 1885) was a servant of the King. He killed with a butcher's cleaver by the king himself because he was taught teaching the catechism. He was the first victim of the persecution.

* John Maria Muzeyi (d. 1886) practiced the corporal works of mercy until his martyrdom.

* Joseph Mikasa (Mkasa, Musaka) Balikuddembe (d. 1885), was the Christian steward in charge of the pages, at the court of King Mwanga of Uganda. He was beheaded on November 15, when he denounced the king's notorious immoralities and his murder of Joseph Harrington, a Protestant missionary, and his group.

* Kizito (d. 1886), 13-year old boy, who went to his death "laughing and chattering," was saved from the king's pedophilic tendencies by Charles Lwanga, who baptized the child.

* Mbanga (Mbaga) Tuzinde (d. 1886) was a page to the king and the adopted son of the chief executioner. He had to resist the pleas of his family up until the moment of he was thrown on the pyre at Namuyongo. At the last moment his father killed him with a blow to the neck to prevent him from suffering the agony of burning.

* Matthias Kalemba (d. 1886) was a Membo judge, who was tortured to death.

* Matthias Murumba, an Islamic assistant judge who converted, first to Protestantism, then to the Catholic faith. He was baptized by Fr. Livinhac, then martyred on Kumpala Hill.

* Pontain Ngondwe (d. 1886), a soldier in the Royal Guard

Charles Lwanga is the patron saint of African Catholic Youth Action

Text courtesy of the saint index at the St. Patrick Church parish website.

Kathy R.

Saint Patrick's Church

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