On the third of June each year, the people of Uganda celebrate the Feast of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions which is also known as Martyrs’ Day. The African Martyrs celebrated on this day are important to the people of Uganda.
At the time, Baganda were one of the largest ethnic groups in Uganda. The group had a rich culture, with superior statesmanship, an artistic community and unique architecture. However, there was also a darker, cruel side to their culture which their ruler, Mutesa, exemplified. When he ascended to the throne, he buried all 60 of his brothers alive in order to ensure his own political survival. He was open to various religions, however, and allowed his people to choose any of the faiths that were being introduced to the kingdom. Mutesa died in 1884.That same year, an Anglican bishop and his caravan were murdered. When one of his advisors, Joseph Makasa, confronted him about the murders, Mwanga had him beheaded, making Makasa the first black martyr.
Mwanga, whose pedophilia was well-known, began making advances toward pages who were working with the missionaries. Charles Lwanga, one of the missionaries, protected several pages, including one named Kizito, from Mwanga’s advances. This infuriated the leader and he ordered Lwanga and 16 others executed for failing to declare loyalty to the Baganda. They were marched to Namugongo, yokes around their necks, wrapped in reed maps, they were burned on a pyre.
In 1964, Pope Paul VI canonised the Catholic martyrs and a shrine dedicated to them on 3 June 1975. The day was then declared Martyr’s Day.
Celebrations and Traditions
Martyr’s Day begins with a Novena at various locations throughout Uganda, but are the largest in areas where the martyrs were born or killed. Novena’s last from 25 May through 2 June. Pilgrims also travel to the Novena’s from as far as Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. The pilgrims may walk miles in order to honour those that died for Christianity. Many pray to the martyrs to help them with a particular trial or tribulation.
Festivals are popular as well with many vendors selling traditional foods and other merchandise. The celebration ends with a Pontifical High Mass organised by different dioceses. Mass includes liturgical dances and speeches from dignitaries.
The Archdiocese of Tororo is expected to lead the 2018 Uganda Martyrs Day celebration to be marked on 3rd, June, 2018 at Namugongo Catholic Shrine.
Tororo Archdiocese is to animate on behalf of Tororo Ecclesiastical Province which comprises of the Dioceses of Jinja, Kotido, Moroto, Soroti and Tororo. The 2018 Uganda Martyrs Day celebration will go along with the 100 year’s celebration of the martyrdom of the two Catechists from Paimol: Blessed Daudi Okello and Blessed Jildo Irwa who were killed in 1918. The two Blessed Martyrs are usually commemorated on October 18 but they will be remembered in a special way on 3rd, June, 2018.
The Archbishop of Tororo Most Rev. Emmanuel Obbo, is to be the main celebrant during the Holy Mass. Tororo Archdiocese last led the Uganda Martyrs Day celebration in 1998.
The testimony of the Uganda Martyrs to die for their faith in the imitation of Jesus Christ has inspired many pilgrims who make this spiritual journey of renewing their faith each year. Millions of pilgrims from across the world usually throng Namugongo in honour of the Uganda Martyrs.
The devotion to the Martyrs has also transformed many people’s lives and has become the source of strength amid the challenges and difficulties many Christians go through in their lives. Many pilgrims who go to Namugongo usually come back renewed in their faith and encouraged to give testimony to it by their way of life.
The Uganda Martyrs Day celebration is usually held in honour of the 22 Catholic Martyrs who were killed on the orders of Mwanga II the Kabaka (King) of Buganda between 1885 and 1887.