By Juliet Lukwago
Last October 18, 2013 Kampala Archdiocese launched preparations to mark 50 years since Pope Paul VI canonized the 22 Catholic Uganda Martyrs in Rome on October 18, 1964 and declared them saints in St. Peter's Basilica on the same day, which was a Mission Sunday.
Kampala Archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito-Lwanga launched the preparations when he lit a candle to declare the start of the activities that are scheduled to conclude on October 18, 2014, which will be the climax of the events during a-two-day-meeting, code-named ‘Congress’ held inside the Sacred Heart of Mary Cathedral, Lubaga, from October 17, 2014.
The prelate also blew a Kiganda kkondeere (bugle) as another symbol to launch the preparations that would mark the Golden Jubilee of the Uganda Martyrs to be held at national shrine, Namugongo during which Pope Francis is expected to be the main celebrant and chief guest.
The torch will go through 54 parishes that form Kampala Archdiocese starting with Lubaga parish. Fr Joseph Mary Bbuye, the Parish Priest received the flame from Archbishop Lwanga under thunderous applause from the gathering. Nabulagala Parish, where the remains of the first missionaries were buried in 2011, will receive it next.
Archbishop Lwanga told a large gathering that the celebrations are a continuation of evangelizing the Uganda Martyrs under the theme “You shall be my witness”.
The congress discussed many topics including applying the message of the Divine Mercy and the Uganda Martyrs in daily reading and life, to emulate their good examples, enculturation, the promotion of integral development for self-reliance of the African Church, the Biblical aspect about them, the children and youth apostolate under guidance of their saints Kizito-Omuto and Charles Lwanga.
The discussants included Bunnamwaya parish priest Fr Atanansi Musajjaakaawa, Br. Fr. Anatoli Wasswa of the Bannakaroli Brothers of Kiteretedde, Prof. Peter Kasenene, Kinyamaska Seminary vice-Rector Fr Dr. Lazarus Luyinda, Kampala Archdiocese youth chaplain Fr Joseph Luzindana.
The congress considered the martyrdom of the 22 Uganda Martyrs to have ignited the flame of Christianity in modern Africa in 1886 after their excruciating death in in 1886. They are revered for their faith, courage, and countercultural witness to Jesus Christ.
The 22 Martyrs are Joseph Mukasa-Balikuddembe, Kizito-Omuto, Matia Mulumba-Kalemba, Achilles Kiwanuka, Adolphus Mukasa-Ludigo, Ambrosius Kibuuka, Andrew Kaggwa, Bruno Sserunkuuma, Anatoli Kiriggwajjo, Atanansio Bazzekuketta, Charles Lwanga, Gonzaga-Gonza, Gyavira Musoke, Yoanna-Maria Muzeeyi, James Buuzaabalyawo, Dennis Ssebuggwawo, Mbaga-Tuzinde, Mugagga Lubowa, Nowa Mawaggali, Ponsiano Nngondwe, Mukasa Kiriwawanvu and Lukka Baanabakintu.
“These saints are highly honored in Uganda and abroad with many people named after them. The whole Catholic Church and families regularly recite litanies for their intercession in their native languages. Their prayers have been answered so often.
“Despite the fact that most of the martyrs were youth, their sacrifice was the seed that helped to draw Uganda and the whole of Africa to Christ. They are truly the “founding fathers” of the modern African church, which displays so much vigour today,” Archbishop Lwanga noted.
Archbishop Lwanga lamented that although the main Christian churches started schools in Uganda, the post-independence Government, without consulting the owners or founders, decided to take them over, thereby precipitating the standard of education into a crisis.
“Teachers are under paid, Government capitation grants arrive late, leave alone being enough especially the schools under the UPE and USE Programmes. It is also interesting to note that those in Government, who are propagating UPE and USE, have their children in such schools; but in good schools with high standards and facilities,” he deplored.
Referring to the book of Leviticus, Lwanga urged that as Ugandans are also celebrating the Golden Jubilee since independence and now the Uganda Martyrs since their being declared saints, there should be reconciliation with God and neighbors, cancelling all debts, return of the stolen property, including schools and land to their original owners.
“In the spirit of the bible which is God’s word and yet our National motto is “For God and Our Country.” I call upon the government to return the schools to their original owners.”
He was grateful to the Government for having declared June 3 a national holiday. He also asked for Government’s co-operation with the Church as they prepare for the Pope’s visit to honour the Uganda Martyrs so as to make the celebrations successful in all aspects.
He said that in celebrating the death of the Uganda Martyrs, they do not do it as Catholics, but as Ugandans, because the occasions is for all including Anglicans and Muslims, bringing all people together including those in the diaspora.
After declaring the Uganda Martyrs saints, Paul VI also became the first reigning pope to visit the sub-Saharan Africa, when he landed at Entebbe on July 31, 1969 and left on August 2, 1969; after making a pilgrimage to the shrine at Namugongo and laying a foundation stone for a mini-Basilica at the very spot St Charles Lwanga was killed, in honour of the 22 fallen gallants.
Being the most ever widely travelled Pope, the Archbishop of Rome earned himself the nickname "the Pilgrim Pope"; opening up for his successors including Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He traveled to the Holy Land in Jerusalem in 1964. Montini (Pope Paul VI) took the name Paul to indicate a renewed worldwide mission to spread the message of Christ.
It is said the Uganda Martyrs were declared saints after a novena (nine-day prayers) for the cure of two nuns, Sisters Aloyse Criblet and Richildis who had suffered incurable bubonic plague.