CELEBRATING AFRICAN SAINTS –
THE UGANDA MARTYRS IN CANADA

Every 3rd of June according to Catholic Church calendar, we celebrate the feast of Uganda Martyrs. A martyr is one who witnesses and suffers courageously for faith without any fear. The story of the Uganda martyrs is a fruit of the Missionaries of Africa also known as White Fathers who arrived in Uganda on 17th February 1879. The first missionaries in Uganda were protestants of Church Missionary Society in June 1877.

Uganda is a landlocked country in east-central Africa populated by dozens of ethnic groups. The English language and Christianity help unite these diverse peoples, who come together in the cosmopolitan capital of Kampala, a verdant city whose plan includes dozens of small parks and public gardens and a scenic promenade along the shore of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake. The Swahili language unites the country with its East African neighbours Kenya,Tanzania, Rwanda and Sudan.

 The Uganda Martyrs were 22 Roman Catholics and 23 Anglicans executed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga who was the King of Buganda then. Their martyrdom happened between 1885 and 1887 led by the chief executioner named Mukajjaanga.

Many of these martyrs were servants of the King in the palace but after learning of the new evangelization from the missionaries namely Fr. Loudel Mapeera and Bro. Amans, their faith became more important than serving the King. The King could not allow their disobedience to continue and therefore ordered that they should be killed. By killing these young men of faith, Kabaka Mwanga thought he was ending the spread of Christianity and sending a warning to the rest of his people in Buganda. On the contrary his decision became a seed through which Christianity spread in Uganda and the rest of the world.

The Roman Catholics are the following: Achilles Kiwanuka aged 17 years, Adolphus LudigoMukasa aged 24 years, Ambrose Kibuuka was 18 years, Anatoli Kiriggwajjo was 20 years, Andrew Kaggwa 30years, Athanasius Bazzekuketta was 20 years, Bruno Sserunkuuma was 30 years, Charles Lwanga was 25 years, Denis Ssebuggwaawo was 16 years, Gonzaga Gonza was 24,Gyavira Musoke (17), James Buuzaabalyaawo (25-30), Jean Marie Muzeeyi (30-35), Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe (25), Kizito John Baptist (14), Lukka Baanabakintu (30-35), Matthias Kalemba Mulumba (50), Mbaga Tuzinde (17), Mugagga Lubowa (16), Mukasa Kiriwawanvu (20-25), Noa Mawaggali (35), and Pontian Ngondwe was 25 years.

 After their death, Ugandans started praying through them for intercession and spiritual growth Different miracles were registered by many Catholic believers. Notable among them were:

  1. 2 Nuns of Rubaga Convent namely M. Aloyse Criblet and Sr. Richildis.who got healed of Burbonic plague which had already killed one of their members in 1941. This plague was very serious like Covid 19 and there was no cure for it at the time. After the protracted prayers for three days, the doctors were amazed to find both nuns had miraculously recovered.

 Rome commissioned specialists to analyze the diagnosis, medicines and interview the two doctors — Dr. Ahmed, a Muslim and Dr. Reynolds, an Anglican. The conclusion was that not only was the medicine the nuns were taking ineffective against the plague, but even if it had been effective, it could not have produced results in such a short time.

  1. Salongo Revocato Kalema’s case was also registered as one of the Uganda Martyrs’ miracles. Kalema was born with carved legs. This Man got healed and today goes on to spread the devotion of Uganda Martyrs in many parishes in Uganda. He is still alive.

After closer scrutiny of different experts from Rome and the Catholic Church administration in Uganda, the above miracles were approved. On October 1964, the twenty-two Catholic Martyrs of Uganda named above were solemnly proclaimed Saints by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. This ceremony coincidentally happened with the closure of the Second Vatican Council and was graced with the presence of many Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic Church.

It was also attended by over 200 Pilgrims from Uganda graced with a new sound of African drums for the first time and other instruments by a choir of about 150 mobilized among the Ugandans living in Europe. On this day, Pope Paul VI gave official instructions for names of the Uganda Martyrs to be recorded in the Act of Canonization, and 3rd June recorded as their feast day in the Holy Mother Church.

Every 3rd of June pilgrims from across the world make a pilgrimage to Namugongo to celebrate these signs of faith. Remarkable among them are those that walk on foot for days in prayer and fasting. Namugongo shrine is dedicated to the Martyrs of Uganda who shed their blood because of the Christian faith. The Shrine is well known for its beautiful and unique interior and exterior, but it is especially notable for its shape and architectural plan which includes the 22 copper pillars-over 100 feet long that support the shrine built in form of an African hut and its wooden doors that depict the history of the Martyrs. The Shrine has a capacity of 1000 seats arranged in a circular form.

The construction of the Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine began in 1967. It was completed and formally opened by the special Papal envoy, His Eminence Sergio Cardinal Pignedoli on 3rd June 1975. Archbishop Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga was the chief mobiliser of the project, and the architect was Dr. Danhinden of ROKO Construction. When Pope John Paul II made a Pilgrimage to Namugongo on February 7, 1993, during his six -day visit to Uganda (5th -10th February 1993), he elevated the Shrine to a rank of a minor Basilica.

Another shrine is located at Munyonyo. Munyonyo is the starting point of the last journey of young Christians for their execution in Namugongo on 3 June 1886. Having been sentenced to death in Munyonyo on 26th May (Wednesday), the condemned then began upon their own walk to Calvary – a two-day journey to Namugongo where they reached on 27th May (Thursday). Some had already been killed in Munyonyo, others were killed along the way, but the majority were burned alive in Namugongo on 3rd June.

In addition to the original 22 Catholic Martyrs, there are two other martyrs namely Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa. These were two young catechists from Uganda at the beginning of the 20th century. They belonged to the Acholi tribe, a subdivision of the large Luo group whose members even today live mostly in the North of Uganda, but they are also present in Southern Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Congo. They lived and were martyred in the years immediately following the foundation of the mission of Kitgum by the Comboni Missionaries in 1915.

Though they’re not yet canonized, their martyrdom is very meaningful for the current events the country is going through. It is a matter, first of all, of two young lay catechists who together carried out and remained faithful to their assignment to spread the Gospel by words and deeds. Furthermore, by courageously accepting to move to a place outside the influence of their own ethnic clan, they have become in their environment a sign of the catholicity and unity of the Church. Finally, having lived during a period of tribal fights, colonial interests and still flourishing domestic slavery, they represent the integrity of a Gospel that always protects and safeguards personal dignity and promotes peace among peoples, ethnic groups and cultures. For this, even today they are remembered in their land as Christ’s true “witnesses by blood”.

Uganda Martyrs Prayer in summary goes as follows:

O, Lord Jesus Christ, you have wonderfully strengthened the holy Martyrs of Uganda, and have given them to us as examples of faith and fortitude, chastity, charity, and fidelity, we beseech you that by their intercession, the same virtues may increase in us, and that we may deserve to become propagators of the true faith. AMEN

Organised by The Uganda Catholic Community of Ottawa- Canada

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UGANDA MARTYRS DAY, OTTAWA 2023

Uganda Martyrs are not only a Ugandan affair. Here the Ladies of St. Mulumba are celebrating with Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Abuja. St. Matia Mulumba was one of the 22 Uganda Martyrs and is highly celebrated in Nigeria.

The Ladies of Saint Mulumba Nigeria are wives and widows of the Knights of St. Mulumba, Nigeria, of the Catholic Church. The noble Order of the Knights of Saint Mulumba, Nigeria, was founded on 14th June 1953 on the principle of selfless service and commitment to God, to the Church and to humanity, with their three Ts of “Treasure, Talent and Time”.

They support their spouses (Knights of St Mulumba) through humanitarian services within and outside the Church, including support to the homeless, the sick in hospitals, training and empowerment of widows, assistance to vulnerable children, youth and women all over the country.

They gathered in Abuja from the 15th of March to the 16th, for their inaugural celebration of the Abuja Metropolitan Ladies of St Mulumba Day, with the theme: “ Strengthening our Resilience amidst emerging challenges while maintaining our identity as women in the Church of Christ”

We wish them fruitful deliberations, and may the Lord continue to use them to touch the lives of many who are poor, sick, marginalized, displaced, imprisoned, and many others.