May 20, 2019 • Foundation News
The St. Kizito Foundation’s name comes from Kizito, who was one of the Ugandan martyrs who suffered death on June 3rd, 1886, at 14 years old, rather than renouncing his Catholic faith. Kizito was the youngest martyr. The following is a story of incredible faith and inspiring witness to Christ.
The Story of the Ugandan Martyrs
The Ugandan Martyrs refer to 45 Christians (22 Catholics and 23 Anglicans) tortured and killed from 1885 to 1887 for their faith. The Kabaka or ruler who was, during this period, Mwanda, ruler of the people of Buganda, persecuted Christians. Buganda is now known as the country of Uganda.
Priests belonging to the Missionaries in Africa, commonly referred to as the White Fathers (due to their white habits), arrived in Uganda in 1879. They encountered little resistance at first. The White Fathers shared their Christian faith among the people of Buganda. The community tolerated their teaching and preaching without incident. That changed when the Kabaka, Mutesa, died, succeeded by his son, Mwanga. Mwanga viewed Christianity as a threat to his power.
The Christian views on morality, especially the teaching that pedophilia was a sin, did not help endear them to Mwanda, who himself was a pedophile and routinely solicited sexual favors from his young pages. His chief page, Joseph Mukasa, was a Catholic who did his best to protect his young charges. He even had the courage and conviction to confront Mwanga and insist he gives up his sinful ways. Mwanga’s response was to have him beheaded.
Joseph Mukasa was succeeded as chief page by Charles Lwanga, also Catholic, who was also vigorous in protecting the young pages. Mwanga became increasingly enraged as the pages, St. Kizito among them, continually refused and rebuffed Mwanga’s sexual advances. Mwanga eventually had the pages brought before him giving them a choice to renounce their Christian faith and live or choose to keep their faith and die.
Many of the pages, including Charles Lwanga and Kizito, chose their faith. There were 15 in the group bound and made to walk two days to the Namugongo to die. One of the Christians, Matthias Kalemba, was martyred en route.
Upon reaching Namugongo, Charles Lwanga was the first to be burned at the stake. The following is a moving excerpt taken from the Catholic News agency:
The executioners slowly burnt his feet until only the charred remained. Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith. He refused, saying, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.” He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire.
The executioners burned the other pages alive together. As they were executed, their faith remained strong until the end, praying and singing hymns. The death of these martyrs had quite the opposite effect the Kabaka intended. Many witnessing the horrific deaths of these amazing young men who gave their young lives so willingly for their faith asked to be baptized.
Beatification and Canonization
In 1920, Pope Benedict XV beatified the 22 Catholic Ugandan martyrs. In 1964, Pope Paul VI canonized them. During the canonization of the 22 Catholic martyrs, Pope Paul VI reflected on the Anglican martyrs in his homily. He said, “And we do not forget the others who, belonging to the Anglican confession, met death for the name of Christ.”
Today the site of Namugongo is a shrine, a holy place, where Charles Lwanga, Kizito, and the other Ugandan martyrs witnessed with their lives to Christ. Pilgrims come from all over the world to this special place. African people, in particular, make the journey, many on foot, some walking many miles, to celebrate the lives of the Ugandan martyrs. An article in CRUX reported how some pilgrims walk hundreds of miles to Namugongo to pray, give thanks, praise God, and celebrate the life of the Ugandan martyrs. At a Mass celebrated last year on June 3rd, the Feast of the Ugandan martyrs, Archbishop Emmanuel Obbo remarked, “Jesus died for us. Ugandan martyrs died and became the light of Christ. They opened the door of believing in Christ in Uganda, Africa and the whole world.”
The following is a listing of each of the Ugandan martyrs who suffered death with Charles Lwanga and Kizito:
- Achilles Kiwanuka, pray for us.
- Adolphus Ludigo-Mukasa, pray for us.
- Ambrose Kibuuka, pray for us.
- Anatoli Kiriggwajjo, pray for us.
- Andrew Kaggwa, pray for us.
- Antanansio Bazzekuketta, pray for us.
- Bruno Sserunkuuma, pray for us.
- Charles Lwanga, pray for us.
- Denis Ssebuggwawo, pray for us.
- Gonzaga Gonza, pray for us.
- Gyavira, pray for us.
- James Buuzabalyawo, pray for us.
- John Maria Muzeeyi, pray for us.
- Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, pray for us.
- Kizito, pray for us.
- Luka Baanabakintu, pray for us.
- Matia Mulumba, pray for us.
- Mbaga Tuzinde, pray for us.
- Mugagga, pray for us.
- Noa Mawaggali, pray for us.
- Ponsiano Ngondwe, pray for us.
For a particularly moving video on the Ugandan martyrs and Namugongo, please view Bishop Robert Barron’s reflection on them.
Blog Image Credit: Wulman83, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.