The Catholic Martyrs of Uganda

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Namugongo Martyrs Shrine on 3rd June 2023 - Commemorating Martyrs Day Celebrations

The Uganda Martyrs, also known as the Ugandan Martyrs, are a group of 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican converts to Christianity who were martyred between 1885 and 1887 in Uganda. They are revered for their steadfast faith and unwavering commitment to their beliefs, even in the face of persecution and death.

The events leading to the martyrdom of the Uganda Martyrs took place during the reign of King Mwanga II, who ruled the Buganda Kingdom. At that time, Christianity was gaining popularity in Uganda, which caused tension with traditional religious practices and threatened the king’s authority.

The king ordered the execution of the Christian converts who refused to renounce their faith and engage in immoral practices. The martyrs consisted of both young men and boys, including Catholic and Anglican converts. They were from various backgrounds, including members of the royal court, pages, and commoners.

The Uganda Martyrs were subjected to brutal tortures and persecution, including beatings, burning, and dismemberment. They endured these sufferings with remarkable courage and remained steadfast in their commitment to Christ. Their martyrdoms took place in different locations, with the most well-known site being Namugongo, where a significant number of them were burned alive.

The martyrdom of the Uganda Martyrs had a profound impact on Christianity in Uganda and beyond. Their sacrifices inspired many to embrace the Christian faith and strengthened the resolve of believers during times of persecution. Today, the Uganda Martyrs are celebrated as national heroes and revered as saints in both the Catholic and Anglican traditions. While on a holiday in Uganda, it is possible to hire a car and a driver then, visit Namugongo where most of these martyrs were burnt alive.

Uganda Martyrs Church Namugongo

Each year on June 3rd, Uganda commemorates the Feast of the Uganda Martyrs, a public holiday, to honor their memory and celebrate their witness to the Christian faith. Pilgrims from around the world visit Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine, where a basilica has been built, to pay homage to these courageous martyrs and seek their intercession.

The Uganda Martyrs, who were canonized as saints by the Catholic Church on October 18, 1964, by Pope Paul V, are:

  1. Saint Charles Lwanga

Saint Charles Lwanga is one of the most prominent and revered Uganda Martyrs. He was born in 1860 in the Buganda Kingdom, which is present-day Uganda. Charles Lwanga converted to Christianity and became a catechist, playing a vital role in spreading the faith.

During the reign of King Mwanga II, the king’s hostility towards Christianity intensified, and he ordered the execution of converts who refused to renounce their faith. Charles Lwanga, along with other Christian converts, stood firm in their beliefs and refused to engage in immoral activities at the king’s command.

On June 3, 1886, Charles Lwanga and his companions were brought to Namugongo, where they were brutally martyred. They were burned alive on a pyre, enduring tremendous suffering while remaining steadfast in their faith. Their martyrdom occurred because they chose to follow Christ rather than yield to the king’s demands.

Saint Charles Lwanga is celebrated as a symbol of courage, faith, and purity. He is particularly revered for his protection of young boys, as he worked diligently to shield them from the king’s abuse and immoral practices. He is often depicted as a young man with a spear, representing his role as a protector and his martyrdom.

Saint Charles Lwanga, along with the other Uganda Martyrs, was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Their feast day is celebrated on June 3rd each year, both in Uganda and throughout the Catholic Church, as a testament to their witness and devotion to their faith. Saint Charles Lwanga is regarded as a patron saint of youth, Catholic action, and African Catholicism.

  1. Saint Andrew Kaggwa

Saint Andrew Kaggwa is one of the Uganda Martyrs who was canonized as a saint. He was born in 1860 in the Buganda Kingdom, which is present-day Uganda. Andrew Kaggwa was a member of the royal court and served as a high-ranking official in the court of King Mwanga II.

During the late 19th century, when Christianity was spreading in Uganda, tensions arose between the Christian converts and the king, who opposed the new faith. King Mwanga II ordered the execution of those who refused to renounce their Christian beliefs.

Andrew Kaggwa, known for his devout faith, was one of the converts targeted by the king. Despite his close association with the royal court, he did not waver in his commitment to Christianity. He refused to engage in immoral activities and stood firm in his faith.

On 26th May, 1886, Andrew Kaggwa was beheaded and hacked into pieces at Munyonyo after his arm was cut off. He is the patron of catechists, families and teachers.

  1. Saint Matia Mulumba Kalemba

Saint Matia Mulumba was a chief in the Buganda Kingdom, present-day Uganda, during the late 19th century. He was known for his strong leadership and influence. Matia Mulumba converted to Christianity and became a fervent follower of the faith.

During the reign of King Mwanga II, who was hostile towards Christianity, Matia Mulumba faced persecution and pressure to renounce his faith. However, he remained steadfast in his beliefs and refused to abandon Christianity.

On May 30, 1886, Matia Mulumba was martyred for his refusal to denounce his Christian faith. He was speared to death, embracing his martyrdom with courage and conviction. He underwent the most excruciating pain, because he was skinned alive and left to die.

  1. Saint Denis Ssebuggwawo Wasswa

Saint Denis Ssebuggwawo Wasswa was a Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He served as a page of Kabaka Muteesa I of Buganda and a page in personal attendance of Kabaka Mwanga II of Buganda.

He is remembered as one of the first of the Martyrs of Uganda for he faced his death on 26th May, 1886 aged between 15 – 16 years of age. His only crime was teaching his faith to Mwafu, the chancellor’s son and favourite of Kabaka Mwanga, and this led to the king to torture and spear him before heading him over for execution where he was beheaded and later hacked into pieces at Munyonyo.

 Saint Pontiano Ngondwe

Saint Ponsiano Ngondwe was a young Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He embraced Christianity and became a fervent believer. It is believed that Saint Ponsiano Ngondwe was martyred on 26th May, 1886.

  1. Saint Athanasius Bazzekuketta

Saint Athanasius Bazzekuketta was a Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He served as a page in the court of King Mwanga II.

On May 27, 1886, Athanasius Bazzekuketta was martyred.

Saint Athanasius Bazzekuketta is remembered as a martyr and a symbol of steadfastness in the face of persecution. He is honored for his unwavering commitment to his Christian beliefs and his courage in standing up for his faith.

  1. Saint Gonzaga Gonza

St. Gonzaga Gonza, was a Catholic catechist and a member of the Baganda tribe in Uganda. He played a crucial role in spreading the Catholic faith during a time of persecution.

Despite the dangers, St. Gonzaga Gonza fearlessly continued to teach and preach the Gospel. He remained steadfast in his commitment to Christ, refusing to renounce his faith even when confronted by the king. Saint Gonzaga Gonza faced his death on May 27, 1886.

  1. Saint Kizito

Saint Kizito is one of the 23 Uganda Martyrs who were canonized as saints. He is also known as Saint Kizito of Uganda. Kizito was a young boy, estimated to be around 14 years old at the time of his martyrdom. Despite his youth, he demonstrated great faith and courage in the face of persecution.

Kizito was a page in the court of King Mwanga II of Buganda Kingdom. When the king began persecuting Christians, Kizito, along with other young Christian boys, chose to remain steadfast in their faith. They refused to renounce their beliefs and engage in immoral activities as ordered by the king.

On June 3, 1886, Kizito and his companions were brought to Namugongo, where they were tied up and taken to be burned alive. Throughout their journey and even at the site of execution, they remained resolute in their faith and encouraged one another.

Kizito’s innocence and unwavering faith have made him an inspiration to many. He is often depicted as a young boy dressed in traditional Ugandan attire, holding a palm branch symbolizing martyrdom.

Saint Kizito is considered as the patron saint of children and primary schools.

  1. Saint Lukka Baanabakintu

Saint Luke Baanabakintu was a Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He served as a catechist, actively spreading the Christian faith. He faced his death on June 3, 1886,

  1. Saint John Maria Muzeyi

Saint John Maria Muzeyi, also known as Ssenkungu, was a Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He served as a soldier in the court of King Mwanga II.

During the late 19th century, when King Mwanga II began persecuting Christians, John Maria Muzeyi faced a difficult decision. He had to choose between following the orders of the king, which included renouncing his faith and engaging in immoral activities, or remaining faithful to his Christian beliefs.

John Maria Muzeyi chose to remain steadfast in his faith and refused to participate in the king’s demands. He courageously proclaimed his Christianity, despite knowing the potential consequences. On January 27, 1887, John Maria Muzeyi was martyred.

  1. Saint James Buzabaliawo

On June 3, 1886, James and his companions were brought to Namugongo, where they were tied up and taken to be burned alive. Throughout their journey and even at the site of execution, they remained resolute in their faith and encouraged one another

  1. Saint Mbaga Tuzinde

On June 3, 1886, Mbaga and his companions were brought to Namugongo, where they were tied up and taken to be burned alive. Throughout their journey and even at the site of execution, they remained resolute in their faith and encouraged one another

  1. Saint Anatoli Kiriggwajjo

Saint Anatoli Kiriggwajjo was a Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He worked as a palace guard for the king.

On June 3, 1886, Anatoli Kiriggwajjo was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.

  1. Saint Adolphus Ludigo-Mukasa

Ludigo-Mukasa was a Munyoro from Mwenge in the western part of the country. At a young age, he was abducted by Baganda raiders and became a companion of Charles Lwanga at court. Ludigo-Mukasa was put in charge of the Kabaka’s gardens.

On June 3, 1886, Adolphus Ludigo-Mukasa was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.

  1. Saint Bruno Sserunkuuma

On June 3, 1886, Bruno Sserunkuma was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.

  1. Saint Nowa Mawaggali

Saint Nowa Mawaggali was martyred on May 27, 1886.

  1. Saint Achilleus Kiwanuka

Saint Achilleus Kiwanuka at the age of fifteen Kiwanuka was chosen to serve as a page and messenger at audience hall in the court of King Mwanga II of Buganda. He played a significant role in spreading the Christian faith and catechizing others in his community.

On June 3, 1886, Achilleus Kiwanuka was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.

Saint Achilleus Kiwanuka is honored as a martyr and a symbol of unwavering faith and commitment to Christ. He is remembered for his dedication to spreading the Gospel and his courage in the face of persecution.

  1. Saint Mugagga Lubowa

On June 3, 1886, Mugagga Lubowa was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.

  1. Saint Ambrosio Kibuuka

Saint Ambrosio Kibuuka was a Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He served as a royal page in the court of King Mwanga II.

On June 3, 1886, Ambrosio Kibuuka was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.

  1. Saint Mukasa Kiriwawanvu

On June 3, 1886, Ambrose Kibuka was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.

  1. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe

Saint Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe was a Catholic convert and a member of the Buganda Kingdom in present-day Uganda. He served as the chief steward and a trusted advisor to King Mwanga II.

During the late 19th century, when King Mwanga II began persecuting Christians, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe faced persecution for his faith. He courageously stood up against the king’s unjust actions and protected innocent Christians from harm.

Saint Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe is particularly remembered for his defense of a young Catholic named Denis Ssebuggwawo Wasswa, who was being mistreated by the king. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe admonished the king for his actions and spoke out against the mistreatment of Christians.

On November 15, 1885, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe was martyred for his refusal to condone the king’s unjust actions. He was beheaded for his steadfast faith and commitment to justice.

Saint Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe is honored as a martyr and a symbol of courage, justice, and leadership. He is revered for his defense of the faith and his willingness to sacrifice his life to protect fellow Christians. Balikuddembe is remembered as first of the Martyrs of Uganda.

  1. Saint Gyavira Musoke

On June 3, 1886, Gyavira Musoke was martyred along with a group of other Christians at Namugongo. They were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith.