The Ugandan Martyrs refer to a group of forty-five Christians – twenty-two Catholics and twenty-three Anglicans – who were tortured and killed over a period stretching from 1885 to 1887 for their faith. Christians were persecuted by the Kabaka or ruler who was, during this period, Mwanda, ruler of the people of Buganda. Buganda is now known as the country of Uganda.
Priests belonging to the Missionaries in Africa, commonly referred to as the White Fathers (due to their white habits), arrived in Uganda in 1879. They were met with little resistance at first. The White Fathers shared their Christian faith among the people of Buganda. Their teaching and preaching were tolerated without incident. That changed when the Kabaka, Mutesa, died and was succeeded by his son, Mwanga. Mwanga viewed Christianity as a threat to his power.
The Christian views on morality – especially the teaching that pedophilia was a sin – did not help endear them to Mwanda, who was a pedophile and routinely solicited sexual favors from his young pages. His chief page, Joseph Mukasa was a Catholic who did his best to protect his young charges. He even had the courage and conviction to confront Mwanga and insist he give up his sinful ways. Mwanga’s response was to have him beheaded.
Joseph Mukasa was succeeded as chief page by Charles Lwanga who also was a Catholic and who also was vigorous in his protection of the young pages. Mwanga became increasing enraged as the pages, St. Kizito among them, continually refused and rebuffed Mwanga’s sexual advances. Mwanga eventually had the pages brought before him giving them a choice to renounce their Christian faith and live – or choose to keep their faith and die.
Many of the pages including Charles Lwanga and Kizito choose their faith. There were fifteen in the group who were bound and made to walk two days to the Namugongo where they would be killed. One of the Christians, Matthias Kalemba, was martyred enroute.
Upon reaching Namugongo, Charles Lwanga was the first to be burned at the stake. The following is a moving excerpt taken from the Catholic News agency:
The executioners slowly burnt his feet until only the charred remained. Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith. He refused saying, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.” He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire. [Source]
The other pages were burned alive together. As they were being executed, their faith remained strong until the end, praying and signing hymns.
The death of these martyrs had quite the opposite effect the Kabaka intended. Many witnessing the horrific deaths of these amazing young men who gave their young lives so willingly for their faith, asked to be baptized.