Today the church remembers a horrible 19th Century massacre as it honors St. Charles Lwanga and the Martyrs of Uganda.
In the late 1870’s Christian missionaries came to Uganda, both Catholic and Protestant, to plant churches and spread the Gospel.
Full disclosure: I have very mixed feelings about missionary work, especially the kind that was practiced in that time and place (and still practiced in many corners of Christianity). The accompaniment model I can support, and do support. I do not support the “I have something you need/white savior” model, which is far too often the model still used.
But I digress.
Regardless of how they came to the faith, these thirty-two martyrs were offered up as a “burnt offering” at Namugongo, many of them pages in the court of King Mwanga of Buganda. Many of the men were actually just boys, no more than thirteen years old. Their crime?
They refused to renounce the faith.
Charles Lwanga was seen as their leader, and encouraged them to stand fast to their convictions.
After this massacre, the killings continued as persecution spread throughout the land as King Mwanga attempted to exterminate Christianity. Unfortunately for the king, the stories about these brave martyrs emboldened others to not only stand firm in their faith, but even led some to adopt the faith because they were so inspired.
The conviction of these martyrs helped other Ugandans to understand that Christianity was/is truly African, and not a white religion…which totally makes sense because Christianity started with a man of color (even though much of the church keeps trying to pretend that’s not true).
Led by the example of these martyrs, Christianity started to spread like wildfire throughout Uganda. There was nothing the king could do.
The Martyrs of Uganda, led by Saint Lwanga, are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes your life and how you live it is the best testimony.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon of Saint Charles Lwanga written by Fr. Kevin Estabrook