Wednesday, June 3, 2020

S. Charles Lwanga and his companions, Martyrs

Today is when the Church commemorates S. Charles Lwanga (1860-1886), who was ‘Master of Pages’ for the Ugandan royal household, aas well as a lay catechist. With great courage he led around forty teenage boys, Roman Catholics and Anglicans, on a forty-mile forced march to martyrdom. As they journeyed they prayed and they sang the Lord’s praises, teaching each other the hymns of their respective churches. In this way they were strengthened for what lay ahead. 

The young King Mwanga had ordered their execution for being “those who pray.” But in fact they were martyred for refusing the sexual demands of the king.  Some of them were clubbed to death; most were burned alive.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI canonised the young Roman Catholic martyrs and praised their Anglican companions, recalling the heroism of all the early Christian martyrs in Africa. Here is part of his homily from that Mass: 

The African martyrs add another page to the martyrology – the Church’s roll of honour – an occasion both of mourning and of joy. This is a page worthy in every way to be added to the annals of that Africa of earlier times which we, living in this era and being men of little faith, never expected to be repeated. 

In earlier times there occurred those famous deeds, so moving to the spirit, of the martyrs of Scilli, of Carthage, and of that “white robed army” of Utica commemorated by Saint Augustine and Prudentius; of the martyrs of Egypt so highly praised by Saint John Chrysostom, and of the martyrs of the Vandal persecution. Who would have thought that in our days we should have witnessed events as heroic and glorious?  Who could have predicted that to the famous African confessors and martyrs such as Cyprian, Felicity, Perpetua and – the greatest of all – Augustine, we would one day add names so dear to us as Charles Lwanga and Matthias Mulumba Kalemba and their 20 companions? Nor must we forget those members of the Anglican Church who also died for the name of Christ. 

These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only the mind of man might be directed not towards persecutions and religious conflicts but towards a rebirth of Christianity and civilisation!  Africa has been washed by the blood of these latest martyrs, the first of this new age (and, God willing, let them be the last, although such a holocaust is precious indeed). Africa is reborn free and independent. 

O God, who have made the blood of Martyrs 
the seed of Christians,
mercifully grant that the field which is your Church,
watered by the blood shed by Saints Charles Lwanga 
and his companions,
may be fertile and always yield you an abundant harvest.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


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