Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga, martyr, and his companions, martyrs
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Today the Church remembers St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, protomartyrs of Uganda, Africa. Along with Charles there were twenty-two Catholic men, including seventeen young pages between the ages of 13 and 30, plus several Anglican youth, martyred by King Mwanga of Uganda. Their heroic courage echoes the stories told of our Biblical ancestors and those of the Golden Age of Martyrdom in the Early Church.
Charles Lwanga was born in the kingdom of Buganda in the southern part of modern Uganda, and served as a page in the court of King Mwanga II. King Mwanga in his hatred for the faith began to insist Christian converts abandon their new faith, and executed many newly baptized Roman and Anglo-Catholics between 1885 and 1887. Many of them were officials in the court of the king or otherwise very close to him, including Charles Lwanga. After a massacre of Anglicans in 1885, the court’s resident Catholic priest, Joseph Mukasa reproached the king for his acts of violence. Mwanga had Mukasa beheaded and arrested all of his followers. Charles Lwanga took up Fr. Mukasa’s duties, and secretly baptized those of his pupils who had only been catechumens on May 26, 1886. In retaliation, Carl Lwanga and 11 other Catholics were burned alive on June 3, 1886. Charles Lwanga and his companions were canonized in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.
"The African martyrs add another page to the Church’s roll of honor — an occasion both of mourning and of joy. These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only the human mind might be directed not toward persecutions and religious conflicts but toward a rebirth of Christianity and civilization! Africa has been washed by the blood of these latest martyrs, and first of this new age (and, God willing, let them be the last, although such a holocaust is precious indeed). Africa is reborn free and independent."
– from the homily at the canonization of Saint Charles Lwanga and companions by Pope Paul VI
We have in today’s Liturgy the words of Paul the Apostle, a martyr himself, in his letter to Timothy. He speaks for Charles Lwanga and his companions with a martyr’s courage and faith:
"Beloved…such is my Gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.
This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him."
Fr. Jim Strommer, C.P., is a member of the Provincial Council and resides in Chicago, Illinois.