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 Anglican Church of Uganda honor the Martyrs that gave their lives for the whom they believed in and became the seed of the Uganda Church its Faith and Beliefs.
There were 22 Catholics, and 23 Church of Uganda (Anglican) were executed for their faith and refusal to renounce it by Kabaka Mwanga. The execution for most was on June 3rd, 1886. The Day commemorated each year in Uganda by millions and by Catholics in particular around the world.
The Muslim Community remembers the over 70 young Men that were executed for their Faith in 1878 by Kabaka Mutesa l. The site, which had been a mosque A proper memorial site has been promised, reiterated in 2019 but
Namugongo Martyr’s Shrine, the Basilica, visit by three Pope including Pope Francis who celebrated Mass here and visited the other Martyr sites at Munyonyo. The Ugandan Martyr’s, their faith beyond Belief are part of the History of the Church, the history of Uganda as a nation.
June 3rd in Uganda is Martyrs Day, a day a group of young Christian Men paid the Ultimate Sacrifice of Dedication to God are honored for their Faith and Belief in Christ in a joint Catholic and Anglican Commemorative Service where millions attend,
They come not only from Uganda but other parts of Africa and beyond. Many of those that make the pilgrimage to Namugongo, young and old do so on foot from DR Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania.
Pilgrims, people gather at Namungo for various reasons, for most it about paying respect to those for whom Christianity was beyond religion, but their faith lived out in life and death.
Some come because it is the place to be on June 3rd, it is a place of commemoration and celebration. For others is a place of personal reflection, prayer, an examination of one’s life in the light of the way that the young martyrs showed. Some come seeking a miracle for themselves or others. All come motivated by Faith in Hope in God.
Namungo – like other sacred places of faith in other parts of the world, the Martyrs Site attracts the high and mighty and the least, last and lost seeking an encounter with God at Namugongo.
They gather in a place where others went to meet their maker as Martyrs singing in Luganda “Bulijjo tutendereza ekibuga kyaffe. Ekyakubibwa mu Ggulu, Yesu kyeyazimba. Singa mbadde n’ebiwaawa nga Bamalayika, Nandibuuse, nandituuse eri mu Sayuni” – The English Hymn – Daily, Daily we sing Praises. Scriptures were not only in their heads but in their hearts. Revelation 2:10 “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” They thus died singing in Faith Believing until the end.
Namugongo Martyrs Site draws people from all backgrounds not only on June 3rd each year, but throughout including Tourists and visitors from around the world who come to see, reflect, pray or see Uganda’s past in the present times.
Christianity in Uganda
Christianity in Uganda – 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.
When it comes to Christianity – 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 Kingdom in 1875.
The first Anglican Church Missionaries sent by the British Protestant Society arrived in 1875 as a result of Henry Morton Stanley’s suggestion to King Mutesa l to allow Christian Missionaries to come – 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 and fractions 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 fractions 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. Muslims denounced Mwanga ll 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 ideas of their religion.
Kabaka Mwanga turned on the Christians – even on his 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 lead as he led them into their faith with Christ. Mukasa was also admired 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 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 amid 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 rage only prayers and hymns could be heard – 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, burned, dismembered, speared and attacked by wild dogs.
The Christian Martyrs 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 or in Luganda – Katonda.
Was their sacrifice in vain? Today the Church in Uganda, Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal (though they do not for the most part in the commemoration) is growing and thriving and June 3rd Martyr’s Day is an acknowledgment that these young men were the seed of the Church which now has come to fruition and developed into a sturdy tree though with different branches.
When the church was once again persecuted in Uganda by Idi Amin, men such as Archbishop Janani Luwum who was killed by Idi Amin and Bishop Festo Kivengere and others did not waiver from their commitment to Christ just as the Martyrs had before them
Today the Church in Uganda, Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal is growing and thriving and June 3rd Martyr’s Day is an acknowledgment that these young men were the seed of the Church which now has come to fruition and developed into a great tree though with different branches. Ugandan Christians have been from the beginning are now actively 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 critical time and you will realize why most Ugandans are people of faith – it is because of the seed of the martyrs of Uganda – perpetuated by other faithful Men and Women since that time.
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 light of Faith Continuous in Uganda. Darkness has tried but cannot extinguish the Flames of Faith that continuous from the martyrs until this day. Uganda continuous to be a country where the church is growing in numbers.
The Catholic Church, the Church of Uganda and especially the Born Again Pentecostal Churches are thriving.
The freedom to worship without fear exists in Uganda and churches are filled with worshippers each Sunday. People from all levels of Ugandan society attend church on a weekly basis without restraint.
The persecution the Martyrs faced, the persecution the church suffered under Idi Amin is today history- Daily Ugandans sing Praises, like the Martyrs, to their God.