St. Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan Martyrs

Today the Church Universal celebrates the feast of St. Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan martyrs. Likely you do not know much about him and the 21 people that were martyred along with him. Today’s celebration of St. Charles Lwanga and Ugandan martyrs is a major feast and holiday in East Africa. And a reminder to us that this truly is a church universal – katholica.

Lwanga was born in 1860 in Uganda. It was a time of Christian Missionary activity in a country that was still ruled by a tribal kings. Lwanga was born in the Kingdom of Buganda, the central and southern part of modern Uganda, and served as chief of the royal pages and later major-domo in the court of King Mwanga II of Buganda.

Christians were tolerated by the King Mutesa I, but his successor, Mwanga, launched a campaign against them. Mwanga was 18 years old at the time of his ascension to the throne. He believed that the Christian worldview undermined his authority. While the records are not clear, a major reason for his view was that the Christian court pages would not willing engage Mwanga in ritual sex. Mwanga first massacred the Anglican missionary bishop James Hannington and his colleagues in October 1885. Joseph Mukasa, an important member of the royal household and a Catholic, reproached the king for the massacre, and, on November 15 of that year. Mukasa was beheaded.

On May 25, 1886, 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 Catholic faith, upon which the king condemned them to death. Charles Lwanga was burned at the stake on June 3, 1886. He and the other 21 Catholic martyrs were canonized by Pope Paul VI in October 1964.

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