The history of the Catholic Church in Uganda would be very different from the one we know had there not been the story of the Uganda Martyrs. Their story is in fact at the centre of this history. Presently, each year, thousands of foreign pilgrims and tens of thousands of local pilgrims flock to Namugongo! But, what are all these pilgrims, including the popes, go for at Namugongo?
Putting aside individual and personal intentions of each pilgrim, there is a legacy at the heart of this pilgrimage that these martyrs have left behind for all followers of Christ, Ugandans and non-Ugandans, alike. Pilgrims to Namugongo and to other places linked to these martyrs, and all the lovers and admirers of these martyrs, should know this legacy if we, as their true spiritual heirs, are to remain faithful to it.
It is this legacy that this page of our website will try to explore and share with our readers in view of honouring our ancestors in the faith by seeking daily to follow in their footsteps. Speaking about this legacy in his homily at Namugongo, Pope Francis said: “This legacy is not served by an occasional remembrance, or by being enshrined in a museum as a precious jewel. Rather, we honour them, and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society, whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world.” (see his homily)
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
From the age of the Apostles to our own day, a great cloud of witnesses has been raised up to proclaim Jesus and show forth the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, we recall with gratitude the sacrifice of the Uganda martyrs, whose witness of love for Christ and his Church has truly gone “to the end of the earth”. We remember also the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood. All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age.
We too have received the gift of the Spirit, to make us sons and daughters of God, but also so that we may bear witness to Jesus and make him everywhere known and loved. We received the Spirit when we were reborn in Baptism, and we were strengthened by his gifts at our Confirmation. Every day we are called to deepen the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life, to “fan into flame” the gift of his divine love so that we may be a source of wisdom and strength to others.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift which is meant to be shared. It unites us to one another as believers and living members of Christ’s mystical Body. We do not receive the gift of the Spirit for ourselves alone, but to build up one another in faith, hope and love. I think of Saints Joseph Mukasa and Charles Lwanga, who after being catechized by others, wanted to pass on the gift they had received. They did this in dangerous times. Not only were their lives threatened but so too were the lives of the younger boys under their care. Because they had tended to their faith and deepened their love of God, they were fearless in bringing Christ to others, even at the cost of their lives. Their faith became witness; today, venerated as martyrs, their example continues to inspire people throughout the world. They continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and the power of his Cross.
Just as the mother and seven sons from the Second Book of Maccabees encouraged one another in their moment of great trial (7:1-2. 9-14), so too, as members of God’s family, we are to assist one another, to protect one another, and to lead one another to the fullness of life. Here I think with gratitude of all those – bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and catechists – who in so many ways help to support Christian families. May the Church in this country continue, especially through its parish communities, to assist young couples to prepare for marriage, to encourage couples to live the marital bond in love and fidelity, and to assist parents in their duty as the first teachers of the faith for their children.
Like the Apostles and the Uganda martyrs before us, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to become missionary disciples called to go forth and bring the Gospel to all. At times this may take us to the end of the earth, as missionaries to faraway lands. This is essential to the spread of God’s Kingdom, and I ask always for your generous response to this need. But we do not need to travel to be missionary disciples. In fact, we need only to open our eyes and see the needs in our homes and our local communities to realize how many opportunities await us. Here too the Uganda martyrs show us the way. Their faith sought the good of all people, including the very King who condemned them for their Christian beliefs. Their response was to meet hatred with love, and thus to radiate the splendour of the Gospel. They did not simply tell the King what the Gospel does not allow, but showed through their lives what saying “yes” to Jesus really means. It means mercy and purity of heart, being meek and poor in spirit, and thirsting for righteousness in the hope of an eternal reward.
The witness of the martyrs shows to all who have heard their story, then and now, that the worldly pleasures and earthly power do not bring lasting joy or peace. Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace which the world cannot give. This does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come. Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world, and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is the legacy which you have received from the Uganda martyrs – lives marked by the power of the Holy Spirit, lives which witness even now to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This legacy is not served by an occasional remembrance, or by being enshrined in a museum as a precious jewel. Rather, we honour them, and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society, whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world. May the Uganda martyrs, together with Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for us, and may the Holy Spirit kindle within us the fire of his divine love!
Omukama abawe Omukisa! (God bless you!)