Today we commemorate the twenty-two canonized martyrs of Uganda, who died between 1885 and 1887. Charles Lwanga was born in Buddu County, Uganda, in about 1860.
Having learned about the Catholic faith from converts—Cardinal Lavigerie’s White Fathers had opened a mission in that region in 1879—he also began taking instructions.
While still a catechumen, Charles was given a position (1884) in the household of Mutesa, Kabaka (king) of Buganda (now part of modern Uganda), as assistant to Joseph Mkasa, who was in charge of the boy pages. Months after Mwanga had succeeded (October 1884) his father Mutesa, Mwanga’s attitude toward Catholics changed. He feared that the foreigners would eventually take over his country and was loathe to see his people abandon their old religious rites and customs.
When Mwanga sought sexual favors from the young pages, Mkasa, who was a Catholic and a catechist, berated him for his licentiousness. He was subsequently arrested on trumped-up charges and beheaded on November 15, 1885.
Saint Charles now had to protect his pages from the ruler’s perverted demands. Aware that death might come to them at any moment, Charles, who himself had only recently been baptized (November, 1885), baptized the youths whom he had been instructing in the faith.
On May 26, 1886, Mwanga initiated a persecution against “those who pray,” that is, Christians, and that same day Charles and his Christian pages were arrested, condemned to death, and forced to march to Namugongo, about thirty miles distant. There they were martyred by slow fire on June 3, 1886.
Saint Charles Lwanga, his twelve pages, and nine others who met death before or after June 3 were canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
In today’s Mass, the prayer over the gifts recalls the courage that Saints Charles Lwanga and companions showed in choosing death rather than yielding to sin.
Saints Charles Lwanga and Companions - Ora Pro Nobis!