Uganda remembers The Martyrs of Uganda who died for their Faith June 3rd each year
On June 3rd – Join Uganda’s Martyr’s Day Celebrations in Namugongo
The Martyrs of Uganda who died for their Faith – June 3 is Martyr’s Day where the Catholic Church and the Church of Uganda honor the Martyrs that gave their lives for their Faith and shaped Uganda’s Faith and Belief.
22 Catholics and 23 Church of Uganda (Anglican) were executed for their faith and refusal to renounce it by Kabaka Mwanga – many on June 3rd 1886, The Muslim Community remembers over 70 young Men that were executed for their Faith in 1878 by Kabaka Mutesa l.
If you are a Christian Visitor to Uganda, a visit to Namugongo is a must both the Museum and the Shrine.
June 3rd each year is Martyr’s Day in Uganda a day where the Christian Martyr’s are honored for their Faith and Belief in Christ – the Catholic Celebration at Namugongo – the location where most Martyr’s were executed and that includes the Muslim Martyrs who were executed years earlier.
Islam came first to Uganda via Arab Traders from the Coast and many in the Buganda Kingdom were converted to Islam from their traditional beliefs, were taught to read the Koran and had instructions as to how to live as a Muslim and that Allah was supreme and not the Kabaka as had been the belief of those who belonged to the Buganda Kingdom. King Mutesa l partially adopted Islam but refused to be circumcised and he wondered why less and less were coming to prayers each day that he administered – Muslims also refused to eat the meat of the King since it had been butchered in a non-Muslim manner – the result of these refusals led to the execution of over 70 Muslims – most at Namugongo which was an execution site in the Kingdom.
First came the Explorers such as John Hanning Speke in 1862 in search of the Source of the Nile and he met with Mutesa l and he was impressed by the kingdom that he found as was Henry Morton Stanley who came to the Buganda in 1875. The first Anglican Church Missionaries sent by the British Protestant Society arrived in 1877 as a result of Henry Morton Stanley’s suggestion to King Mutesa l to allow Christian Missionaries to arrive – in 1877 the First French Roman Catholic White Fathers arrived. Both the Catholics and Protestants made converts in the Kingdom and Islam was also continuing to grow. The Catholics and Protestant began to be antagonistic toward one another creating friction in the Kingdom.
Kabaka Mutesa died and he was by Kabaka Mwanga ll – a man who did a lot to hold on to his position of power, who was quite young and unable to deal with the various frictions in the Kingdom and they included frictions sparked by the differences between Catholics, Protestants and even Muslims. Each group was zealously gathering new converts because Kabaka Mwanga never committed himself to any religious group.
Each Group tried to gain maximum influence at the court of the Kabaka Mwanga ll and there was lots of infighting in the court. Mwanga ll was denounced by Muslims for his refusal to be circumcised and Christians denounced him because of his polygamy – he had at least 85 wives. All groups began to put their loyalties first to God denouncing traditional ways and adopting the morality and ways of their religion.
Kabaka Mwanga totally turned on the Christians – even on his personal attendant who was a devout convert to the Catholic Faith whose name was Joseph Mukasa and who had brought many to Christ – up to 500 young men and boys who were pages in the court of the Kabaka. These young pages respected Joseph Mukasa and followed his leadership as he led them into their faith with Christ. Mukasa was also respected by Kabaka Mwanga ll since Joseph Mukasa once killed a snake with his bare hands as it was about to strike the Kabaka.
Non Christian advisors who were jealous of Joseph Mukasa began to poison the mind of the Kabaka telling him that Mukasa was no longer loyal to the Kabaka but another King – Jesus the King of Kings. The Kabaka was not only angry at Joseph Mukasa but against his newly converted pages – both Catholic and Anglican who refused the sexual advances of the Kabaka. When Kabaka Mwanga ll planned to kill the new and first Anglican Bishop James Hannington – Joseph Mukasa warned him to not to do so and the Kabaka went ahead and had the Archbishop put to death. John Mukasa further enraged the Kabaka when he opposed the Kabaka from using young pages as sex partners. John Mukasa taught the boys as to how to avoid sexual encounters with the Kabaka and to stay out of his way.
Kabaka Mwanga was so enraged that he decided to make an example of John Mukasa’s disobedience and had him put to death, he ordered that John Mukasa would be burned alive for being a traitor to the kingdom. John Mukasa’s response was one based on his abiding faith in Christ – as he was facing his executioner he told him “a Christian who gives his life for God has no reason to fear death… . Tell Mwanga, he , “that he has condemned me unjustly, but I forgive him with all my heart.” The executioner did not burn him but beheaded him as an act of mercy and then burned his body.
The Kabaka who still was enraged demanded the loyalty of all of his Christian pages by renouncing their Christian Faith – if they did not do that the result would be death for them. Charles Lwanga had taken on the place as head of the pages and he became their spiritual leader – he like Mukasa before him protected the boys from the advances of the Kabaka and as to how to keep their faith in the midst of persecution.
One evening when the Kabaka returned to his residence he found out that a page – Denis Ssebuggwawo had been instructing Kabaka’s favorite boy in the faith and he ordered that Denis Ssebuggwawo be put to death and he was taken out and hacked to death
Events were reaching a horrible climax – Kabaka Mwanga ll ordered all pages to attend a meeting – he ordered all those who do not pray to stand with him – those who prayed were ordered stand on the other side – the youngest – Kizzito was only 14.
He sentenced those who prayed to death and to be burned alive at Namugongo – they were led on the 25-kilometer walk – they were closely tied up but kept up their spirits by praying aloud, reciting Bible Verses and the Catholic Catechism while they were being led to their death. Along the way three were speared to death – the rest arrived at a large funeral pyre. The young men encouraged one another in their faith as they were wrapped in dried leaves with wood over them – as the flames rages only prayers and hymns could be hear – even as they became faint as death approached.
Christians were killed not only at Namugongo but all over the Kingdom and those who were sought out were those who had instructed others in the faith were beheaded, roasted, dismembered, speared and attacked by wild dogs.
The martyrs, in case of the Christian ones were young, but yet men of faith, not seduced by the temptations of the court of the Kabaka. They served a higher king than the Kabaka – the King of Kings.
June 3rd every year hundreds of thousands [over 1.5 million] make the pilgrimage to Namugongo to remember The Martyrs of Uganda who died for their Faith those who were Catholic and have been canonized as saints who withstood the temptations before them – the Church of Uganda includes Bishop Luwum in their commemoration – a man who was cruelly murdered during the Idi Amin years.
On June 1 –2012 the Muslims remembered their 70 plus Martyrs that died for their faith – this was the first time in many years – there is a mosque at Namugongo but it was desecrated by Obote soldiers and the hope is to build a befitting memorial to those of the Muslim faith who gave up their lives for their faith.
The government of Uganda along with the Catholic and Church of Uganda and the Muslim Community will develop Namugongo as a tourist destination that commemorates the lives of the Martyrs.
Today the Church in Uganda, Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal is growing and thriving and June 3rd Martyr’s Day is an acknowledgement that these young men were the seed of the Church which now has come to fruition and grown into a powerful tree though with different branches. Ugandan Christians are now active proclaiming their faith all over the Globe. The Ugandan Church is no longer primarily a receiving Church but a sending Church well represented throughout the world.
If you have some extra time in Kampala – visit Namugongo – a most meaningful time and you will realize why most Ugandans are people of faith – it is because of the seed of the martyrs of Uganda.