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St Charles Lwanga – an African hero

June 3, 2015

Feast of Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions                       Wednesday 3rd June 2015

Charles Lwanga was a servant at the royal court in what is now Uganda. In 1884 a new king, Mwanga, came to the throne. He saw Christians as foreigners trying to take over his country, and he began persecuting the Christians who were on his staff. On May 26 1886 sixteen Catholics and ten Anglicans were sentenced to death for refusing to deny their Faith, and a week later they were all martyred by being burnt alive.

I found an article about St Charles Lwanga and his companions that was written by Fr Jimmy Lutwama AJ, the Parish Priest of St Mary and St Benedict in Coventry, England. Father Jimmy comes from Uganda, so I thought you might like to hear what he had to say. He wrote it last year.


Fortitude or the courage to profess our faith is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Last Tuesday June 3rd, the Church celebrated the feast of the Uganda martyrs. How did it happen? Well Catholicism came to Uganda on 17th February 1879 not far from my home. Protestantism had arrived 2 years earlier; Islam had come even much earlier. Some natives who were later to become martyrs had tried one faith or the other, but none convinced them so much than the Catholic faith. Its high moral demands and Christian self-sacrifice after the example of Jesus made them so determined to resemble him in every detail. Paganism was rejected but this was interpreted by the king as disobedience to his authority and to the traditional gods.

On 25 May 1886, King Mwanga sentenced 2 martyrs to death; Denis Ssebuggwawo and Andrew Kaggwa who he thought were the leaders. On the morning of 26th May 1886, he summoned his chiefs to discuss the ‘disobedience’ of his servants. Satisfied with the support of his chiefs, he gave orders for all the servants to be assembled before him. He also commanded the attendance of Mukajanga, the chief executioner. He appointed a royal legate, with powers to seize and plunder Christians in the villages far beyond.

When Charles Lwanga and his companions were assembled, the king asked them: ‘Are you all Christians? ‘Yes we are Christians,’ they replied. ‘Are you unshaken in your resolve to remain Christians?’ The king asked. ‘If you choose not to regard that as a crime, we shall be grateful to you, but we shall never cease to be Christians. That of which a man is fully conscious he cannot deny.’ Then speaking to the king Charles Lwanga said; ‘you, sir, are always telling us that we must do our duty, we have never failed to do so.’ Today once again, we take up the position you command.’ Mwanga then shouted, ‘Tie up all the Christians!’ ‘Take them to Namugongo and burn them to death!

The preparations were not completed until the eve of the Ascension Day, 2 June 1886. Early on the morning of Ascension Day, 3 June 1886 thirty-two prisoners were burnt in the great holocaust at Namugongo. Of these, twelve are recognized as Catholic martyrs. Nine are recognized by the Anglicans. The remaining ten were pagans, who had been in prison and under sentence of death for offences other than religion.

We might not be called to this kind of witness to Jesus, but we are called to live our faith in him daily with Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and with Fear of the Lord. These are gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.

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