On 3rd June 2014 as we sat in the comfort of our living rooms watching the proceedings of prayers that were going on at Namugongo martyrs shrine and tweeting every sentence by any speaker with the hashtag #Ugmnartys , one of my friends (FOLLOWERS) in Zimbabwe asked me why is June 3rd a public holiday in Uganda . I replied to his tweet by writing ‘Uganda martyrs’ I thought he was going to go Google the story anyway until he wrote to me, “isn’t there a better explanation’, so I explained to him the little I knew , I told him there was a king on whose orders people were burnt people alive because of their religion (only to discover later that not everyone was burnt, but yes they all died for their religions ).
I decided to go to Namugongo martyrs shrine the following week and get the story myself , the day I went to shrine I found a group of pilgrims from Kenya and two ladies from Germany . One by one they asked me where I was coming from and whenever it old them here (Uganda) they could hardly believe it that it was my first time to visit the shrine too but yes it was.
Ok here is the story as narrated to us by Ben, the tour guide at the shrine.
There were catholic and Anglican martyrs that were killed by King Mwanga between 1885 and 1887. There were 24 catholic martyrs, 22 of whom were killed between 1885 and 1887 by Kabaka (King) Mwanga of Buganda in the central Uganda; the other 2 martyrs were speared to death in Paimol, Gulu in the North of Uganda in October 1918. Some Martyrs like Andrew Kaggwa, Pontiann Ngondwe, Matthias Mulumba and Denis Ssebuggwawo. Others were speared to death like Gonzaga Gonza, while others like Charles Lwanga were hacked to pieces and 12 others were burnt alive at Namugongo
The Christian Missionaries were invited by Kabaka Muteesa I, Mwanga's father, in his letter dated 14th April 1875.
Many of the martyrs were pages in the Kabaka's (KING) palace while others were working in chiefs' homesteads. Each family was selecting very hardworking boys to go and work for the King. It is in the King's palace and chiefs homes, therefore, that the Martyrs began to learn religion after the coming of the Anglican and catholic Missionaries in 1877 and 1879 respectively.
It was in the palace that these martyrs began to learn religion after the arrival of the Anglican missionaries in 1877 and the catholic missionaries in 1879. However the Arab traders had arrived in Buganda decades before and had introduced Islam, and the king began favoring one religious group and then another, mainly for political gain.
According to tradition, the Kabaka was the center of all authority and power in the kingdom, and he could use his subjects as he wished. But the presence of the missionaries was severely diminishing his authority among the converts. As a result, the king sought to eliminate Christianity from his kingdom and began a violent persecution of the missionaries and the new Christians.
King Mwanga threatened to have all his Christian pages killed unless they renounced their faith.
The first martyr to die was King's leader of all Christians, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, on 15th November 1885. He was killed because he had pleaded to King Mwanga not to kill Bishop Hannington, an Anglican missionary who had entered Buganda from Busoga (which was then regarded the backdoor of Buganda kingdom). Mukasa had the king’s respect, too, for he had once killed a poisonous snake with his bare hands as it was about to strike his master. But King Mwanga was even more unstable than his father. He was soon affected by the poisonous lies of jealous advisors, who called Mukasa disloyal for his allegiance to another king, the “God of the Christians.”
This did not intimidate them, however, for Mukasa’s example had inspired them. Even the catechumens among them followed Mukasa’s bravery by asking to be baptized before they died among them was Charles Lwanga, who “Those who pray” he commanded to stand before a fence on his left. Charles Lwanga led the way, followed by the other Christian pages, Catholic and Anglican. The youngest, Kizito, was only fourteen.
He sentenced the group to be burnt alive at Namugongo. Eyewitnesses said that the martyrs were lighthearted, cheering and encouraging one another as the executioners sent up menacing chants. Each of the pages was wrapped in reeds and placed on a bonfire; King Mwanga threatened to have all his Christian pages killed unless they renounced their faith. “Those who pray” he commanded to stand before a fence on his left. Charles Lwanga led the way, followed by the other Christian pages, Catholic and Anglican. The youngest, Kizito, was only fourteen. “Call on your God, and see if he can save you,” called one Executioner. “ madman,” replied Lwanga. “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.”
The twenty-two catholic martyrs were beatified by Pope Benedict XV on 6th June 1920 and canonized by Pope Paul VI on 18th October 1964. The other 2 martyrs were speared to death in Paimol, Gulu in the North of Uganda in October 1918. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II on 20th October 2002.