African saints: Charles Lwanga and his 21 companions

Many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, were killed by the Ugandan King Mwanga II. Charles Lwanga (born in about 1860) and his twenty-one companions (the youngest, Kitizo, was only 13 years old) were executed in Buganda, south Uganda, for being Christians, for rebuking the king for his debauchery, for “praying from a book,” and for refusing to allow themselves to be ritually sodomised by the king. They were taken on a 37-mile trek to the place of execution at Namugongo. On June 3, they were brought out, wrapped in reed mats, and placed on the pyre to be burned to death. Several  others died between 1885 and 1887. Most of them, including Anglican converts,  were burned alive in a group after being tortured.
Charles Lwanga was a lay catechist who sought baptism amidst persecution. He was canonised in 1964 by Pope Paul VI. Charles Lwanga and others had been catechised by the White Fathers who had only been in Uganda for six years. Many of these missionaries escaped persecution by local rulers and tyrants but died of malaria and dysentery in East Africa. They were expelled from the country but the converts continued their work.
  Within a year of their deaths, the number of catechumens in the country quadrupled. St Charles Lwanga is the patron of Catholic Action and of black African youth, and the Ugandan martyrs’ feast day is a public holiday in Uganda.

Reading 1 Tb 1:3. 2:1A-8.

I, Tobit, have walked all the days of my life on the paths of truth and righteousness. I performed many charitable works for my kinsmen and my people who had been deported with me to Nineveh, in Assyria. On our festival of Pentecost, the feast of Weeks, a fine dinner was prepared for me, and I reclined to eat. The table was set for me, and when many different dishes were placed before me, I said to my son Tobiah: “My son, go out and try to find a poor man from among our kinsmen exiled here in Nineveh. If he is a sincere worshiper of God, bring him back with you, so that he can share this meal with me. Indeed, son, I shall wait for you to come back.”


   Tobiah went out to look for some poor kinsman of ours.When he returned he exclaimed, “Father!” I said to him, “What is it, son?” He answered, “Father, one of our people has been murdered! His body lies in the market place where he was just strangled!” I sprang to my feet, leaving the dinner untouched; and I carried the dead man from the street and put him in one of the rooms, so that I might bury him after sunset. Returning to my own quarters, I washed myself and ate my food in sorrow. I was reminded of the oracle pronounced by the prophet Amos against Bethel: “All your festivals shall be turned into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.”


   And I wept. Then at sunset I went out, dug a grave, and buried him. The neighbors mocked me, saying to one another: “He is still not afraid! Once before he was hunted down for execution because of this very thing; yet now that he has scarcely escaped, here he is again burying the dead!”


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