SAINT CHARLES LWANGA (1865-1886) and COMPANIONS, martyrs of Uganda – Patron saint of African Catholic Youth Action, Catholic youth and torture victims.
Between the years 1885 and 1887, there were 22 Ugandan Catholics who were martyred for refusing to submit to being sodomized by the Ugandan king. A young Christian page, Charles Lwanga, was one of those martyrs whose love for Christ strengthened and inspired his fellow Christians to remain strong in their new faith, and it is Saint Charles and his companions whom the universal Church honors today.
In 1879, Catholicism began spreading in Uganda when the White Fathers, a congregation of Catholic priests, were peacefully received by King Mutesa of Uganda. The priests soon began preparing catechumens for the Sacrament of Baptism and, before long, a number of the young pages in the king’s court had become Catholics.
However, on the death of the king, his son Mwanga, a corrupt man who ritually engaged in pedophilic practices with the younger pages, assumed the throne. Charles protected his fellow pages (twelve of them) from Mwanga’s sexually abusive demands, and encouraged and instructed them in the Catholic faith during their imprisonment for refusing the king’s unholy desires, inspiring them to remain chaste and faithful to the teachings of the faith.
Charles was the first of his group to be executed at Namugongo, Uganda, on the morning of June 3, 1886, which happened to be Ascension Thursday. In taking leave of the rest of his fellow pages, Charles said to them, “My friends, we shall, before long, meet again in Heaven. I stay here and go on ahead of you. Keep up your courage, and persevere to the end.”
At his request, Charles was allowed to arrange his own death-bed of firewood. Then he laid himself upon the pyre and was slowly burnt. Just before the fire stopped the beating of his heart, Charles Lwanga cried out in a loud voice, “Katonda!” that is “My God!” The rest of Charles’ friends were burned to death at noon time that same day.
The executioners later noted, as recorded by an eye witness who survived what is called the “African holocaust” – “We have put many people to death, but never such as these! On other occasions the victims did nothing but moan and weep, but the Christians were wonderful! There was not a sigh, not even an angry word. All that was heard was the soft murmur on their lips. They prayed until they died.”
Charles Lwanga and all his companions were canonized saints on October 18, 1964 by Pope St. Paul VI in Rome, Italy.
We commemorate their joint feastday on June 3.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and ugandamartyrsshrine.org.ug)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions)
“Father, You have made the blood of the martyrs the seed of Christians. May the witness of Saint Charles and his companions, and their loyalty to Christ in the face of torture, inspire countless men and women to live the Christian faith.
“We ask this 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. Amen.”