Sunday 16 July 2023

Martyrs of Uganda - Joanna Bogle - CTS Biographies

Martyrs of Uganda
Joanna Bogle
Catholic Truth Society
CTS Booklet B658

Martyrs of Uganda - Joanna Bogle - CTS Biographies

I stumbled across this volume while doing research for a review of a different book from the Catholic Truth Society. I had read many books in the CTS 20th Century Martyrs Series, I discovered in the back of one a book I had not heard of and it led me to this volume and several others that are currently out of print, they are:

The Martyrs of Uganda
Martyrs of Nagasaki
Martyrs of Vietnam

I was able to track this one down after a few years of searching, thanks to a friend at a library in Ireland. I have read almost all of the titles in the 20th Century Martyrs series. The remaining volumes like those listed above are hard to find. To date this is the only the second volume I have been able to track down and it was well worth the effort and so worth the read, especially with the Synod of 2023. Over the last several years I have read over 360 books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society, there are many great series and many wonderful authors. Some of the books are not easy reads, and I include this one in that list, reading about Martyrs of the 20th Century, from England, Ireland and Wales, and now the Orient and Africa are not always easy to read. But they are important reads, and these are stories we should know. But of all the books I have read about Martyrs this one is one of the hardest. The means of torture and execution used are not for the faint of heart. 

The description of this volume is:

“A story of young Christians, Catholic and Protestant, martyred for holding fast to their faith.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI canonised 22 young men from Uganda. In the 1880s, Charles Lwanga and his companions had met their brutal deaths, burnt and speared to death, at the hands of Mwanga, head of the Bugandan stale. Their only offence
was to practise the Christian faith and refuse to take part in the homosexual activities of the court of Mwnnga.

The witness of chastity and faith given by these young Christians, some only just baptised, is truly extraordinary - a light in the darkness.

“Africa is a land of the Gospel. Africa is the new homeland of Chris! The unwavering fidelity of these young Christians of Africa is clear evidence
of this.’” Paul VI.”

This volume was published in 2000, some 36 years after Saint Paul VI canonized them.

The chapters in the volume are:

Buganda and Christianity 
     The Buganda nation
     Explorers and Missionaries
     The Christian Conversions 
     The Royal Pages 
     The New King 
     The Storm Gathers 
     Visiting Bishop Murdered 
The Persecutions 
     The Eve of Martyrdom 
     The Storm Breaks 
     Christians condemned 
     Death of Matthias Kalemba 
     The Fires of Namugongo 
     Charles Lwanga 
     Martyrs· Glory 
     What we have learned 
     The Church's teaching on Homosexuality 
     The roll call of the Martyrs 

I highlighted many passages while reading this volume, some of them are:

“This booklet tells .the story of some African Christians - heroes and martyrs of whom the whole Church is proud - who witnessed to the Church's teaching with their very lives. This is a story for our times, and one which points the way for the Church of tomorrow, showing the need for courage and integrity among those who seek to live Christianity in its fullness .”

“The Martyrs of Uganda were solemnly proclaimed saints by Pope Paul VI in 1964. They are honoured in the Church's calendar as Charles Lwanga and Companions, and are sometimes known as the Forty Ugandan Martyrs. In Christian tradition, groups of martyrs are given the number 40 - commemorating Our Lord's forty days in the desert and the Israelites' 40 years there.”

“A further matter of considerable note was that this was an ecumenical occasion - Catholics and Christians from a Protestant group died together in this martyrdom. They witnessed to a common faith and morality just as the early Christian martyrs in the first centuries of the Church had done.”

“And there was another notable message from the Uganda martyrs. They witnessed to the Church's teaching on sexual morality. They refused to take part in homosexual activity, and were even prepared to die rather than betray the Church's teaching in this area. In this, they were giving a prophetic witness – one that is much needed today.”

“This nation was Buganda, lying within the territory of modern Uganda. It was ruled - and ruled tightly and ruthlessly - by an absolute monarch, the Kabaka. He owned his subjects, body and soul. Buganda was a polygamous nation, and each man had many wives. The women did all the hard and heavy work, raising crops and carrying heavy loads.”

“They were conscious of belonging to a tradition which gave them security - they did not live amidst constant war and chaos. But there was a terrible price to be paid. The Kabaka could, and did, demand the deaths of any of his subjects at any time and for a variety of reasons - offering the gods some victims in order to plead for an end to illness or to mark some special event. When a Kabaka died, it was usual to slaughter large numbers of people as part of the marking of his passing.”

“Later Stanley was to send home to Britain a passionate plea for missionaries, saying that the people of Buganda were in great need. He saw Christianity as a religion that would mean health care, engineering skills, boat- building and better housing allied to moral improvement. The people of Buganda were skilful and strong. with alert minds - they would thrill to a good teacher who would show them how to un lock more of their potential.”

“The Catholic Church had meanwhile been making plans. In 1878 the authorities in Rome approved a scheme for sending the White Fathers (missionaries so named from the robes they wore) to Equatorial Africa, beginning with areas that could be reached from the East Coast.”

“Matthias Kalemba was known as the Mulumba, and held an important position in the community. He was in his forties when he was baptised. He became an exemplary Christian, and shared a family life with his wife Kikuvwa, creating astonishment by helping her with everyday agricultural work, and always carrying his own goods when travelling so as not to burden others – even though his rank would have earned him several carriers.”

“Another young man with natural leadership qualities was named Lwanga. He started to attend Catholic instruction at about this time. When he went to court as a page he worked closely with .Joseph Mukasa. Both were the effective leaders among the Christian community of pages. Lwanga was popular as he was a champion wrestler and thus a hero figure. Both he and Joseph exemplified Christian leadership of the noblest kind generous, cheerful, courageous and kind-hearted.”

“The new Kabaka was not the oldest son of the previous one. In fact the oldest was by tradition barred from the post. The one who inherited was chosen by the chiefs.
The choice fell on Prince Mwanga.

As he plays such a crucial part in the story, it is important to give some idea of his general character. It was a weak one. He had great charm and courtesy, and an immense recognition of the status of his royal role. But as the Anglican missionary Andrew Mackay wrote, he had weaknesses: "He knows how to behave with dignity and reserve when the occasion demands, but he soon throws off that assumed air, and chats familiarly .. .. But none can fail to see that he is fitful and fickle, and, I fear, revengeful. One vice to which he is addicted is the smoking of bhang (hemp) ... This being so one cannot place much confidence in Mwanga's stability .... "”

“There was another vice, too, and this was one for which he needed partners. He indulged in homosexual activity, and he expected and demanded that his pages submit to his advances. It was this which was to create the crisis which was to lead to Christian martyrdom.”

“The Christian pages knew that homosexual acts were wrong. In fact such acts had never been regarded in Buganda other than with disgust, and Christian moral teaching here explained and reinforced an understanding that was already present in the people's culture.”

“He was intelligent enough to play the white Europeans against the Arab Islamic influence, using his considerable diplomatic skills to good advantage. He quite genuinely wanted the best for his country, but was a spoilt and peevish personality with a complete inability to control his rages and no knowledge of how to set limits on his passions. much less a recognition of how to put his own desires in the context of God's laws and to seek help in making the right choices.”

“Joseph was calm and dignified. He sent one last message to the Kabaka: "Tell him that he has condemned me unjustly, but that I forgive him. However, he must repent, for if he does not I shall be his accuser before the judgement-seat of God." This was said without a hint of bitterness but with great seriousness, and was remembered
by witnesses.

The old executioner then bound his prisoner to a stake and firewood was stacked around it. A sign was then given to one of his assistants, and with a swift blow from a long curved knife Joseph's life was ended.

He was the first native Ugandan to die for the Catholic Faith, and to him belongs the honour of being the protomartyr of his nation.”

“On the afternoon of Joseph 's death the Christian pages gathered in small groups, talking together. The mood was sombre but deeply centred on Christian hope: Joseph had been their leader and had now walked the path of Calvary and met Christ in martyrdom, and so the message he had left was one of courage and faith. He had always been their teacher and mentor.”

“Charles Lwanga led the pages in staunch opposition to all this and even obscene speech died when there were Christians present. He also encouraged the observance of Lent with fasting, and taught the younger boys much about the full practise of their faith. It was not always possible to get to the mission for Mass, and Charles was especially sad that they were unable to do so at Easter - "But we shall make up for it on Ascension Day" he promised.”

“As the boys were led away - stumbling and walking with difficulty because of the ropes which locked them tightly to one another - they were seen to be happy and cheerful. They called out to the watching crowd that they were glad to die for Christ.”

“The savagery of the Kabaka's fires could not quench the flames of faith in Buganda. Christianity flourished and spread. Indeed the news of the martyrs' courage produced an ever greater flow of converts. The heartbroken Father Lourdel and his co-workers, and the Protestant missionaries, still mourning their martyred dead, found that many were coming to them begging for instruction and for baptism.”

“The years ahead were not to be easy ones for anyone in this nation emerging into a rapidly changing world. But Christianity had come to stay. It grew in the hearts and souls of thousands and thousands of these African people. Today, the nation of Uganda is a largely Christian one. There are churches, hospitals and schools across the land - but above all faithful Christians who pray, and who live according to the Christian way. They cherish the memory of their martyrs. They are national heroes as well as popular saints. Shrines and churches built in their honour attract many visitors.”

“The Church teaches that homosexual acts are gravely wrong. This is something that is much challenged in our own day. The idea of a consistent sexual ethic – that there is meaning, design and purpose in human sexuality - is often ignored or misunderstood by many people. This has led to many tragedies in modern times. The account of these martyrs calls us to rediscover our human worth and to know that God as a loving father has created us to have an eternal destiny with Him in Heaven - and that to live according to his laws and design is to live with joy and dignity.”

“At the canonisation of the Uganda martyrs in 1964, it was simply taken for granted that their heroic witness in refusing to take part in homosexual acts was part of the noble tradition of Christianity. Today, we can see that their witness was a necessary message for the coming years, when many people even within the Church – reject her teaching on sexual morality. The Martyrs of Uganda, with their purity and courage, send a powerful challenge to this. We have to ask ourselves whether they, and the Church for 2.000 years, were wrong or whether they were right and what that means for us.”

The Church's teaching on Homosexuality

The Church's teaching on homosexuality has always been grounded in Sacred Scripture, which from Genesis to St Paul condemns homosexual acts as intrinsically wrong and disordered. This attitude of condemnation, does not however extend to those men and women whom the Church recognises as having deep seated homosexual tendencies. Indeed, the Church encourages all Christians and society at large to accept and respect such individuals with compassion and sensitivity. As always the Church, following Christ's example, identifies and rejects the sin but loves and offers mercy and hope to the sinner. 

The Church teaches that the sexual act was created by God to take place within marriage between a man and a woman , for the good of the spouses themselves in enhancing their love and affection for each other, and for the transmission of life. Homosexual acts spring from a disordered concept of love and affection and are closed to the gift of life, by their very nature they take place outside marriage and between same sex partners, and thus can never be approved of.

Chastity is the vocation of every human being, and far from being a limitation on his or her freedom, it is precisely where that freedom can be found. The choice is given to all of us, to govern our passions and find peace, or to let ourselves be dominated by them and become unhappy. Just as heterosexual persons are called to live out their sexuality in chastity and continence, according to their state, whether married or celibate, so homosexual persons are called to live their sexuality in the same way. The Church calls all men and women regardless of their creed to live their homosexuality in this way. To those who are Christian she offers the help of prayer and the grace received through the sacraments and the possibility of uniting their difficulties to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”

“''Who could foresee that with the great historical figures of African Martyrs and Confessors like Cyprian, Felicity and Perpetua and the outstanding Augustine, we should one day list the beloved names of Charles Lwanga, Matthias Mulumba Kalemba and their twenty companions. And we do not wish to forget the others who, belonging to the Anglican confession, met death for the name of Christ.”

I hope those quotes give you a feel for this amazing volume. The book ends with the list of Catholic and Anglican Martyrs from these events. This is a book the church desperately needs today. I cannot help but wonder what these martyrs and saints would say to certain priests and bishops attending the synod in 2023. What they would say to Pope Francis. I cannot help but plan to invoke these saints, especially through June each year. I wish there was a way to send a copy of this volume to every voting member of the Synod in 2023. And I pray that this time next year the teachings that have stood for over 2000 years are upheld by the church, with the intercession of these saints. This is an excellent volume that any Catholic would benefit from reading. 

This is an excellent volume from the Catholic Truth Society. I highly recommend it.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Oscar Romero: Martyr for Faith - Ashley Beck
Pedro Poveda - Bernadette Lally

Books by Joanna Bogle:
A Heart for Europe: the lives of Emperor Charles and Empress Zita of Austria-Hungary
Book of Feasts and Seasons
A Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations
Lent and Easter: Catholic Customs and Traditions
John Paul II, Man of Prayer. the Spiritual Life of a Saint
English Catholic Heroines
Advent & Christmas: Catholic Customs and Traditions
Newman's London: A pilgrim handbook
Courage and Conviction. Pius XII, the Bridgettine Nuns, and the Rescue of Jews
St John XXIII and St John Paul II Prayer Book
Saints & Patrons: Christian Names for Baptism and Confirmation.
A Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations
Martyrs of Uganda

Martyrs of Uganda - Joanna Bogle - CTS Biographies

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