The martyrs of Uganda

We do not see and touch the presence of God in the world as we do the acts of our politicians.  Their decisions, or lack of them, lead to money shortages, fuel shortages, power shortages and so forth.  We live in a fractured world but we are called to hope and work for better days.

God acts differently.

Stories are filtering through of the annual celebration at Nymugonga, Uganda, of the more than a hundred Anglican and Catholic martyrs who died there in between November 1885 and January 1887.  The people of Uganda celebrate those painful events each June as victories of the human spirit over evil. One 97 year old man spends 14 days every year walking the 340 km from his home for the event. He is just one of thousands who come from many different African countries and beyond.  Many travel on foot and people along the way leave out food by the roadside for the pilgrims.  They eat what they need and move on and the food is then replenished.  The whole country seems to come alive in one great act of celebration.

And yet at the time it was a cruel tragedy.

Those who suffered and died did so as their forefathers in the faith did in the early church: some were cut to pieces, others devoured by dogs, others decapitated and thirteen were burned alive in reed baskets. The Catholic Church has canonised 24 of them. They ranged in age from Matthias Kalemba, who was fifty, to Kizito who was only thirteen. Most were between sixteen and twenty four. The main accusation was that they were ‘men of prayer’.  Also the king was enraged that they refused to give in to his sexual desires. They showed extraordinary courage and joy as they face their executioners, so much so that people were astonished. For the most part they had been recently baptised and four were still preparing for baptism. As what awaited what became clear was about to happen, Charles Lwanga, one of the leaders of the group, decided to cut the preparation and baptised them. The most notorious event was the deaths on the pyre at Nymugonga on June 3, 1886. The growth of the people of God in Uganda, and Africa, is a testimony to the permanent efficacy of the offering of their lives. The blood of the martyrs is indeed a seed.

It was a disaster but this seed bore much fruit.  We cannot let it pass as a pious religious devotion ‘for those who like that sort of thing’.  Being prepared to sacrifice for truth is something that we long to see in our own day, in our own lives and in the practices and policies of those who rule us.

16 June 2019               Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:22-31         Romans 5:1-5              John 16:12-15

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