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“Martyrs of Uganda”, Give Hope Every Tear Shall Be Wiped Away

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Our church year is dotted with a variety of commemorative feasts, days which the church has set aside so that we can give thanks for the life and witness of particular people, people who reveal something to us about what it means to follow Jesus.

June 3 is such a day, the feast of “The Martyrs of Uganda”.

Christianity arrived in the kingdom of the Baganda people (now called Uganda) in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The first missionaries, British Anglicans and French Roman Catholics, were warmly received by the Kabaka, the king, Mutesa, who was impressed that they behaved well and brought no slaves.

The mission went well and the first Anglicans were baptized on March 18, 1882. But on October 9, 1884, Mutesa died.

The new king, Mwanga, was young, just eighteen. He was suspicious of foreigners and had a savage temper.

In October, 1885, after a dangerous overland trek from the Indian Ocean coast, the new Bishop of East Equatorial Africa, James Hannington, made the mistake of entering Uganda from the east, the traditional entry point for enemies.

He was detained and on October 29 executed on order of Mwanga. But Mwanga did not limit his fury to foreigners.

Already in January of the same year Mwanga had had three Anglican boys dismembered and burned because they were working for a missionary, Alexander Mackay, who had refused Mwanga’s protection.

The worst punishments, however, were reserved for Mwanga’s own servants. Many of the boys of the king’s court had become Christians.

They were called “readers” because they had become literate in order to read the Bible, which Mackay was translating.

On May 25, 1886, Mwanga called for some servants. Two pages entered, named Ssebuggwawo and Mwafu. When he questioned their activities of the day Mwafu answered that he had been learning about the Christian faith from Ssebuggwawo.

Mwanga exploded. The king had learned the practice of sodomy from Arab traders and Mwafu was his favourite. Mwanga knew that if Mwafu became a Christian he would no longer comply. Three Christian servants were beaten and killed that day; nine more were executed in various ways over the next week.

Thirty-seven were detained at the execution site at Namugongo, knowing that their end was not far. The story of the last days of this mixed group of Roman Catholic and Anglican teenagers, led by the young catechist Charles Lwanga, is one of mutual encouragement, of support for one another in prayer, of steadfast refusal to recant.

The missionaries were heartsick. They pleaded for the release of the prisoners. They were not forbidden to preach but were told that as many as were converted would be killed.

Finally June 3 arrived. Lwanga was killed at the place of detention, roasted over a slow fire.

It is said that he told his executioners that though they were burning him it was as though they were pouring water over his feet, ‘Beware’, he said, ‘of the fire that lasts forever.’

The rest were marched a mile away where they were rolled in reed mats and bound. Four of the younger boys were clubbed to death to spare them the pain.

Five were given a last minute pardon. At noon the pyre was lit. Thirty-one martyrs were burned. The violence of the Kabaka’s persecution scattered other believers throughout the kingdom where more ‘reading’ soon sprung up.

Namugongo shrine in the capital Kampala

The faith of Ugandan Christianity, nurtured by the witness of the martyrs, has lived through more recent periods of violence.

The regimes of Amin and Obote have both claimed their victims: Archbishop Janani Luwum, murdered by Idi Amin, is now commemorated along with the young boys of the nineteenth century.

Today in Namugongo, in the suburbs of Kampala, there is a small Anglican theological college. In the late 1980’s, in the last days of the regime of President Milton Obote, the Principal of that college was a man named Kasira.

One night soldiers came looking for some of the students of that college. Kasira, claiming that he was responsible for those students, refused to give any information to the soldiers. They killed him where he stood.

In a world which continues to be a place of violence the martyrs of Uganda remind us that there will be a day when every tear shall be wiped away, but that now we are called to mutual encouragement, prayer, steadfast faith and self-giving love.

This article first appeared in The Niagara Anglican in June 1995.

Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand has written and edited numerous articles and books, including Why Haven’t You Left? Letters from the Sudan and A Comparative Study of the Story of the Bleeding Woman in North Atlantic and African Contexts.

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Pope Francis Visits Hungary, Slovakia

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The papal plane that departed from Rome at 6.09am local time, is taking Pope Francis to Budapest, where he is scheduled to land at 7,45am for the first leg of his journey.

Here he will meet with authorities before presiding over the concluding Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in the Hungarian capital’s Heroes Square.

He is scheduled to spend about 7 hours in the country before taking a short flight to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, on Sunday afternoon.

That leg of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey will last until Wednesday.

One highlight of his visit to Slovakia wil be the celebration of Mass at the National Shrine of Šaštin, on the feast day of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, Patron saint of Slovakia.

Pope Francis’ pilgrimage, said Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin in an interview with Vatican News on the eve of the journey, is a way of entrusting “to Her all those who find themselves in situations of fragility, of vulnerability, of suffering, including physical suffering, as he has been going through in this period, especially taking into account the situation brought on by the pandemic.”

four dimensions of the visit

Presenting the visit to journalists at a briefing in the Vatican, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni said the visit can be seen as a pilgrimage with four dimensions: a spiritual dimension centered on the Eucharist; an ecumenical dimension when he meets leaders of the other Christian churches and recalls the shared Christian heritage in Hungary and Slovakia that is linked to saints, Cyril and Methodius, who evangelized these peoples; an interreligious dimension represented by the meetings with leaders of the Jewish community in both capital cities; and a missionary dimension during which the Pope will evoke the heroic witness of faith and martyrdom given by Hungarian and Slovak Catholics who suffered persecution under the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

 

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Pope Asks Do We Live Under Law or As Children of God?

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In his catechesis at the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis said we should ask ourselves if we are still living “under the Law” or if we understand that, having become children of God, we are called to live in love.

Pope Francis was explaining St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians at a General Audience, focusing on St Paul’s understanding of the role of the Law for Christians.

St Paul, he said, “has taught us that the ‘children of the promise,’ – that is, all of us, justified by Jesus Christ – are no longer bound by the Law, but are called to the demanding life-style of the freedom of the Gospel.”

He explained that for St Paul, the acceptance of faith is the turning point both for salvation history as a whole and in our own personal stories. At the heart of faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus, “which Paul preached in order to inspire faith in the Son of God, the source of salvation.”

So, he said, for Christians, there is a period “before becoming believers” and “after receiving the faith”; and there is, therefore, “a ‘before’ and ‘after’ with regard to the Law itself.”

In the period before receiving the faith, being “under the Law” has a negative sense, “as if one is watched and locked up, a kind of preventative custody.” This period, he said, “is perpetuated as long as one lives in sin.”

Law as teacher and guardian

The Law, said Pope Francis, makes us aware of what it means to transgress the law and also makes people aware of their own sin. In a certain sense, it ends up “stimulating the transgression.”

But he went on to explain, using St Paul’s image of the Law as a pedagogue, that while the Law had a “restrictive” function, it also served to protect and support the people of Israel, “it had educated them, disciplined them, and supported them in their weakness.”

So, the Pope said, the Law also had a positive function, that was nonetheless limited in time: when children become adults, they no longer need a guardian. Likewise, “once one has come to faith, the Law exhausts its propaedeutic value and must give way to another authority.”

Considering the role of the law

However, he said, the law still exists and is still important. Pope Francis said the role of the law “deserves to be considered carefully so we do not give way to misunderstandings and take false steps.”

And so, he said, “it is good for us to ask ourselves if we still live in the period in which we need the Law, or if, instead, we are fully aware of having received the grace of becoming children of God so as to live in love.”

It is a good question, he said, and added a second: “Do I despise the Commandments?” He also gave an answer: “No. I observe them, but not as absolutes, because I know that it is Jesus Christ who justifies me.”

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Official Image For World Meeting Of Families Released

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The Vatican said on Sunday that it has released the official image for the upcoming World Meeting of Families.

The eagerly awaited 10th World Meeting of Families will take place in Rome from June 22 to 26 June 2022, after the event was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Sacramental love between a man and a woman is a reflection of the indissoluble love and unity between Christ and the Church: Jesus sheds His blood for Her.”

This is the meaning behind the official image of the Tenth World Meeting of Families.

The work, entitled, “This Mystery is Great” (taken from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, 5:32), was painted by theologian and artist Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ,.

The image portrays the Wedding at Cana, with the bride and groom in the background on the left, covered by a veil. Jesus and Mary are seen united, at the moment when Mary tells her Son, “They have no more wine.”

In the foreground is the steward, with the face of St Paul as portrayed in classical iconography.

It is Saint Paul “who removes the veil with his hand, and referring to the wedding, exclaims, “This mystery is great; but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church!”.

Father Rupnik’s painting is the third official symbol to be published; along with the official prayer and logo, it serves as a pastoral tool for the preparation and journey of families toward the 2022 World Meeting.

The event is being organized by the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life along with the Diocese of Rome and will take place on the sixth anniversary of the encyclical Amoris laetitia and four years on from the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate.

The tenth World Meeting of Families follows an unprecedented formula, being presented as a “multi-centered and widespread” dimension.

Rome will be the main venue, but on the days of the worldwide Church event, each diocese will be able to promote a local meeting for its own families and communities. Every family in the world can be a protagonist.

In his video message last July 2 on the occasion of the presentation of the extraordinary form of the Meeting, Pope Francis emphasized that “everyone will be able to participate, even those who cannot come to Rome.”

The Holy Father urged diocesan communities, wherever possible, to plan initiatives based on the theme of the Meeting: “Family love: a vocation and a path to holiness.”

“I ask you to be dynamic, active and creative in organising this with the families in harmony with what will be taking place in Rome,” Pope Francis said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to devote ourselves with enthusiasm to family ministry with spouses, families and pastors together.

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