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Martyrs of Uganda: The expression of unlimited love

Frère Christian Ngoura SM

Frère Christian Ngoura SM


According to the Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Larousse, the word martyrdom is rooted in the Greek "martyr" meaning witness. It is therefore a form of life or death by which a person testifies his faith until the sublime sacrifice in the name of his convictions. Most religions of the world have different forms of martyrdom that vary according to beliefs, beliefs and geographical environments. In the framework of Christianity, it is a heroic act to offer oneself totally out of love for Christ. The martyrs of Uganda in accepting to die, to despise the goods of this world to aspire to eternal goods have therefore been faithful witnesses of Christ. However, in what political, religious and social contexts did they do so and what were their motivations? How did their torture take place and what were the consequences at the level of the Church? The answer to these multiple questions will constitute the different stages of our reflection.


1- Political situation

East African countries, Bouganda, present-day Uganda is limited to the North by Sudan, to the West by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania to the South and East by Kenya. When the White Fathers arrived in Uganda in 1879, including Fathers Lourdel and Livinhac, the country was ruled by the Kabaka, whose name was Mutesa. Following many oppositions with the Arabs, the missionaries after seven months of catechumenate, anticipate the persecution and retreat south of Lake Victoria. At their second attempt in 1885, MWANGA, son of Mutesa, was the new Kabaka. More open and welcoming than his father, the new king will open the doors of his kingdom totally to the missionaries and entrust the best responsibilities of his government to the Christian neophytes. It is thus that these neophytes will discover a conspiracy directed by the Katikiro against the king and will warn the latter. Arrested and interrogated, the Katikiro will lie to the king protesting his fidelity. Forgiven, he swears the death of the Christians and undertakes to make them despise the king as dangerous persons, conspirators. It is important to note that at the moment when all these events take place, Joseph Mukasa is the king's intimate adviser and loved by all. Beyond this political context, the religious situation of Uganda is also remarkable.

2- Religious situation

In general, most Africans, especially the Ugandan Bantus, were fetishists at the arrival of the first missionaries. Very sensitive to the signs of the times, they keep great devotions and respect the tradition. At that time the King was addressed to him by calling him Sebo Kabaka, that is to say, Monseigneur the King. In July 1885, with the arrival of MWANGA, the mission of the White Fathers regained its brilliance. So he gave them a banana. He constantly expressed his love to them, receiving them with great honor, which made great joy among the prayers. Let us note here that during the reign of Mutesa, the catechists already taught believers an appropriate catechesis on the person of Jesus. Therefore, as soon as new evangelizers arrived, the village brothers, who already knew certain prayers, recited them. With MWANGA, Joseph Mukasa, a young man aged 25, was considered the man of peace; He had even been surnamed Balikuddembe, he was the head of the king's household. André KAGGWA and his family first received the baptism in Uganda. Luc BANABAKINTU was the catechist who taught the catechumens; He was responsible for organizing the prayer every day, meetings with the Christians where each one came to tell what he is doing in his environment of life.

Animism and Islam already existed in Uganda; Why the Prime Minister was against the Christians. The majority of the chiefs refused the word of God, and wished that only sacrifices should be made to the genii, that man should marry only a woman. For them, it is the religion of the Prophet Mohammed that seemed easier. But the contrary is a proof of the lack of confidence on the part of Islam. This is verified with this desire of the Katikiro to take the place of MWANGA as king. Because of the refusal of the young pages to obey the king's evil desires, commanding acts contrary to the will of God, they will be persecuted in their daily lives in all forms.

3- Social situation

The social situation was complex at that time because there was not only an attachment to the ancestral tradition, but also and above all a lack of respect for human dignity. The king, the only sovereign, could make his subjects what he wanted. There was homosexuality, pedophilia and the after-effects of the slave trade; because they were still visible in different forms. We also note the practice of witchcraft which was intended to protect the kingdom and repel the evil spirits. Ugandan society lived in fear and fear because men were not free, as in most African societies of that time. The arrival of the missionaries will thus upset this country and push courageous believers to say yes to Christ by rejecting practices that are contrary to the Christian faith.


1- The causes

a- Hatred of non-believers

"Almost all the leaders refuse the word of God because they think that if they do not make sacrifices to the geniuses, will they not take revenge? Do they have to send all their wives to keep one? All these questions about the demands of Christian life aroused others: "When they go to war, will they refuse to steal and kill, like Andre KAGGWA, Jean-Marie FUWUKE and Jacques BUZABALIAWA? When they render services, will they refuse money like Joseph MUKASA BALIKUDDEMBE? (...) Must they change their habits? Fighting alcohol, giving up their corrupt life, no longer taking revenge? This whole series of questions urges the chiefs to perceive the necessity of living, not as Christians, but to see with more respectable eye the religion of the prophet Mohammed which appears easier (which seemed to give them more advantages, among other things, polygamy, as a contribution to the Christian religion which preached monogamy).

b- The revolt of Joseph Mukasa

During a visit by the Anglican missionaries to the king, to announce the arrival of their bishop coming to see them with other missionaries, MWANGA gives the order to kill Monsignor James HANNIGTON because he is afraid that these Englishmen eat the " Uganda (Annex the country) (...) Then MUKASA gets up and says to the king! Sebo kabaka, you must not be afraid of this stranger. Refuse him to enter, but do not wash your hands in blood. Your father MUTESA never did this. "To this reaction of Joseph Mukasa the King also thinks that it must be suppressed, because it shows disobedience and revolt; This could influence his power before his servants. MUKASA also helps the young KISITO who was very beautiful not to yield to the advances of the king, to realize his desires pedophiles and homosexuals, because it is contrary to the norms of the belief.

c- Hatred of the Prime Minister

The Minister of MWANGA has a particular antipathy towards Christians and accuses them of influencing his children by teaching them to pray. He asks the king to put to death all the prayers, especially the leaders, including Joseph Mukasa.

d- The anger of the King

The King's anger toward Christians comes from the fact that "the prayers do not make sacrifices to the gods of the tribe. They refuse to steal their enemies and kill them when they make war. Then the king asked himself, "What will become of my kingdom if all my servants become Christians? The King, having thus observed that his Christian servants no longer obey him, began to shut up all the prayers, and to kill those who refused to listen to him.

2- Presentation of the Martyrs of Uganda

We note that in the history of the martyrs of Uganda, they were mostly between 16 and 24 years old. Here is the list of the 22 martyrs following the order of execution:

Joseph MUKASA Balikuddembe, Denis SSEBUGGWAO, Wasswa Andre KAGGWA, Pontian Ngondwe, GONZAGUE Gonza, Athanasius BAZZEKUKETTA, Matthias MULUMBAKALEMBA WANTE, Noah MAWAGGALI, Charles LWANGA, Bruno SERONUMA or SERONKUMA, Achilles Kiwanuka, Adolphe LUDIGOMUKASA, Ambrose Kibuka, Anatole KIRIGGWAJJO, Jacques BUZABALIAWO, Gyavira MUSOKE, KIZITO, Luc BANABAKINTU, TUZINDE, Mgagga LUBOWA, Mukasa KIRIWANWU and Jean Marie MUZEYI.

In order to know some of the figures that have marked the history of these martyrs, we will dwell on three of the latter whose names are familiar to us.


MUKASA was born in the county of Mawakota, on the shores of Lake Victoria, in the Kingdom of Uganda. He was among those who had criticized the position of the sovereign at the Palace. He also taught the doctrine of Christ and fought against the king's practices of homosexuality and certain bad interferences. In his anger and shame, the king ordered his execution, on the pretext that he could not receive remonstrances from his subjects. BALIKUDDEMBE, killed on 15 November 1885 in Mengo, became the first Ugandan Catholic black martyr.


Born in 1873, KIZITO was the youngest Catholic martyr of Uganda. He was about fourteen years old when he died. No name of baptism was recorded for him, for he was baptized in haste by Saint Charles LWANGA on the night of May 25, 1886, before being sentenced to death for his faith by King MWANGA the following day. It is noted here that during his torture, this young martyr remains (remained) unshakeable in his faith, the more so as he encouraged his other companions. (So much/such that so that he encouraged his companions.)

  • Charles (Karoli) LWANGA

Born in 1860 or 1865 and died on June 3, 1886 in Namougongo( Namugongo) with the other 21 martyrs, LWANGA was converted by the White Fathers and baptized in November 1885. He was burned alive in June.

3- The torture of the martyrs of Uganda

The first victim of the carnage of Uganda was the king's adviser, Joseph Mukasa. Even the executioner sought to delay his execution, but he was ordered by the Katikiro to kill him on the spot; He was therefore beheaded, with two or three pages of the court. Before he died, he left this instruction to the executioner: "Tell MWANGA this: I forgive him for making me die for no reason. But he must change his life if not, I will speak against him at the tribunal of God! He trusted that one day there will be a Divine justice, thus repeating the words of Saint Augustine when he writes: "The cause of the resurrection of the dead is Divine justice."

Mathias MULUMBA was captured with his mother, by a group of Ganda of the otter clan, who were raiding. The executioners attacked him on the spot, cutting off his arms and legs, and ripping off scraps of flesh to burn before him. His courage and resistance were extraordinary, and the only words he uttered were, "My God! My God! The executioners then tied up the arteries and left him there to die slowly.

Charles LWANGA was a Ganda of the deer clan (ngabi). On June 3, before killing all the prisoners, the executioners put Charles LWANGA to death on a small funeral pyre at the top of a hill above the site of the executions. He was allowed to settle the pyre himself, and afterwards he was wrapped in a mattress of reeds, and a slave yoke was placed on his neck. In order to make him suffer more, the fire was first lit under his feet and legs. These limbs of his body were burnt to the ashes before the flames were allowed to reach the rest of his body. Railed by the executioners, Charles told them that by burning it, it was as if they were pouring water on him. Then he remained gently in prayer. Just before the end, he exclaimed with a loud voice "Katonda," - "My God." All the others were killed in a similar way, realizing this thought of TERTULIEN: "we like better Be condemned only to be unfaithful to our God. "


1- Political consequences

King MWANGA, who was the main persecutor of the Christian religion, was driven from his royal throne. After his exile, he received the help of the Catholic and Protestant missionaries and returned to his throne in February 1890 after a long time spent outside his palace. His return to power allowed Uganda, through the collaboration of the missionaries, to sign an Anglo-German agreement that will allow the country's development and Christianity. For it to be signed it was necessary for Father Lourdel to write to Peter who was an agent of the German East Africa Company (East German company) and to JACKSON who was an agent of the Imperial Society British East Africa. The fruits of all these consequences will be political and social stability.

2- Social consequences

Christianity was an important factor for social cohesion in Uganda. Thanks to him, many clans were reconciled to make Community. In addition, religion allowed the construction of many buildings including the Church of RUSAGA, built on the site of the former royal residence.

3- Religious Consequences

The death of Joseph Mukasa gave the Christians much courage to the point where they were no longer afraid of persecution and death. After the death of Jean-Marie MUZEYI on January 27, 1887, the last of the martyrs of Uganda, we passed about 500 Christians to 1000 catechumens (. 20 years later, the country had about 100,000 Christians and 150,000 catechumens. 30 years later, the bishop of the place can count on 88 priests, 11 brothers, 38 nuns and 1244 catechists. Beatified on June 6, 1920 by Pope Benedict XV, these martyrs were canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 18, 1964 at During the Second Vatican Council, in the presence of 2,000 bishops gathered in Rome. In Uganda, June 3 is a day of celebration for the Catholics of the country. Every year, a pilgrimage is organized at the Basilica of the Martyrs of Uganda in NAMUGONGO. In 1978, the Church in Uganda had about four million Catholics out of 11.5 million Ugandans. Today the Roman Catholic religion is the majority, representing 45% of the population. Then come (then follows) the Anglicans with 39% and the Muslims with 10%. The death of all these martyrs enabled the first visit of a Pope to Africa in 1969, as well as the collaboration between the Anglican and Catholic missionaries.


1- In the universal Church

Many people are constantly working to increase the universal Church through their heroic Sacrifices, their witness to life and their fidelity to Christ, even to the sublime sacrifice of their lives. The martyrs of Uganda are remarkable examples today; for since their death in 1886 there have been essential moments in the memory and celebration of their lives as well as that of their heroic death. As a result of all the martyrs who preceded them in the world, they were brave witnesses of the Gospel. Among the most important moments were the silver jubilee of their martyrdom in 1911, the gold and platinum jubilees of their martyrdom in 1936 and 1961 respectively, the centenary of their martyrdom in 1986, and finally the silver jubilee of their canonization in 1989. All these occasions as well as their patronal feast celebrated as a compulsory memorial on June 3rd in the Universal Church gather in NAMUGONGO hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all the countries of the world. This sacrifice in the name of the faith in Jesus Christ of the martyrs of Uganda, therefore, has sown imperishable seeds in the universal Church.

2- In the Church of Africa

TERTULLIEN, father of the Church of the second century, reminds us that "the Blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."That said, wherever there have been martyrs, the good grain has germinated, and the harvests have been magnificent. This is the case in East Africa, where the young Saints of Uganda have made the Church of Africa shine through their sacrifice. After their death, a few movements were born, notably the Ecumenical Association of the Martyrs of Uganda (UMG) founded by Bishop Joseph STREICHER, who helped to make known the martyrs and encourage their devotion throughout Africa and outside; The BANNAKIZITO, founded for children in 1964 by Cyprian K. LWANGA, archbishop of KAMPALA at that time. All this is the result of an unfailing love for Christ. Monseigneur LIVINHAC will say: "The beatification of the martyrs of Uganda will announce a remarkable spiritual renewal in the supernatural life of our Society; The beginning, so to speak, of a new epoch of piety, zeal, generosity, and regularity, remarkable, consequently, by holy works, which will render great glory to God and bring to him thousands of souls. The KA is a Catholic action movement in RD, which includes young boys (Kizito) and young girls (Anuarite) whose age range is between 7 and 14 years. The purpose of this movement is to train these young people in a Christian and human life, we also note that this group is inspired by the martyrs of Uganda as well as other movements of Catholic actions (Scout, Xaveri, JOC etc .). The Kizito group was founded on November 17, 1979 and the group of Anuarite on April 11, 1982. They thus go through the Initiation which is similar to the martyrdom suffered by the 22 of Uganda. This happens in an imaginary setting in which the children are portrayed as heroes on their way to the place of their torture and whose aim is to emerge in a new life. The motto of the Kizito is, "Let's Take Courage," these words that the martyrs used to encourage themselves when they were on their way to the pyre at Namugongo, that of the Anuarite is "Serve and please"; Which was his motto in his religious life. Many principles they choose to apply, among others perseverance, piety, the Good turn etc. We will thus say the KAs are inspired by the Faith, the Virtues and the Courage of their Holy Patrons to follow Christ and prepare their future. This prophecy will be realized and will make the Church grow in our dear continent.

3- The value of martyrdom today

Venerated today by Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans, the martyrs of Uganda remain true rays of light in today's world. That said, martyrdom still retains its value in spite of the many changes of epochs and mentalities. However, the martyrdom of blood still exists, although the most widespread is the white martyrdom in which men and women consecrate their lives totally to Christ. "The first beatified black martyrs", the martyrs of Uganda thus leading a life of deep Christian commitment, life that equipped them with the heroic sacrifice remain models. We have a lot to learn not only how they died, but how they lived. Charles de FOUCAULD asks us to remain awake when he advises: "to live as if you were to die martyr today."


Ultimately, throughout the course of our work, it was a matter of presenting the martyrs of Uganda, starting from its politico-social and religious situation in order to arrive at the causes, motivations, consequences and fruits that the Church Universal today draws from these courageous witnesses of the love of Christ and the Gospel. Thus, it emerges from our analysis that although Uganda, having the characteristics of most African societies, that is, animist, hierarchical, has gradually opened up to the world at the announcement of the Gospel. Catechesis was the appropriate means for the transmission of Christian values ​​to the neophytes of Christianity. Also, rooted in unwavering faith, the motivation of this offering remains the love of Christ which passes through the affirmation of truth. It should be noted that the Church has benefited greatly from these martyrs who, first in Uganda, then in Africa and throughout the world, continue to be models of supreme sacrifice and total fidelity to Christ. However, we do not pretend to have exhausted all the different cogs of this analysis; for many questions remain, especially whether the transformation of our evil or unjust social structures does not go through another form of martyrdom based exclusively on the love of our neighbor.

Frère Christian Ngoura SM




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