O God, by whose providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church: Grant that we who remember before you the blessed martyrs of Uganda, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience even to death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Martyrs of Uganda
We confess that at times we forget that we, too, will be the “ancestors” of those to come. We sometimes think only of ourselves, whether our own plates will be full, whether our own needs are met. Hear the regrets of our hearts as we open ourselves to the promise of your grace and forgiveness. Call us again to be your saints today.
As forgiven and freed people, we join the company of heaven,
praise your name and join their unending hymn:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
On June 3, 1886, thirty-two young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga of Buganda, were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. In the following months many other Christians throughout the country died by fire or spear for their faith.
These martyrdoms greatly changed the dynamic of Christian growth in Uganda. Introduced by a handful of Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries after 1877, the Christian faith had been preached only to the immediate members of the court, by order of King Mutesa. His successor, Mwanga, became increasingly angry as he realized that the first converts put loyalty to Christ above the traditional loyalty to the king.
The martyrdoms began in 1885. Mwanga first forbade anyone to go near a Christian mission on pain of death, but when he found himself unable to cool the ardor of the converts, he resolved to wipe out Christianity.
The Namugongo martyrdoms produced a result entirely opposite to Mwanga’s intentions. The example of these martyrs, who walked to their death singing hymns and praying for their enemies, so inspired many of the bystanders that they began to seek instruction from the remaining Christians. Within a few years the original handful of converts had multiplied many times and had spread far beyond the court. The martyrs had left the indelible impression that Christianity was truly African, not simply a white man’s religion. Most of the missionary work was carried out by Africans rather than by white missionaries, and Christianity spread steadily.
Renewed persecution of Christians by a Muslim military dictatorship in the 1970s proved the vitality of the example of the Namugongo martyrs. Among the thousands of new martyrs, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, was Janani Luwum, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda, whose courageous ministry and death inspired not only members of his own country, but also Christians throughout the world.