Christians are united in the blood of the martyrs
The Uganda Martyrs comprise 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity in the historical kingdom of Buganda, w ...
By Msgr. John Wynand Katende
Ugandans have all the reasons to thank God for the precious endowment of the Martyrs, every 3rd June and beyond. I wish, in particular, to mention the endowment of “ecumenism of blood”.
Although the concept is deeply rooted in sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the teaching of the Church (Magisterium), it is currently being associated with Pope Francis. In this limited space, one can only give a few local manifestations of the ecumenism of blood.
On May 28, 2014, Catholic Archbishop Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga and Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, broke ground for the construction of an ecumenical museum honoring the Martyrs of Uganda. Since then, the leaders of Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), have been making a joint pilgrimage to Namugongo, prior to the national celebrations of Martyrs Day, on June 3rd. The museum was opened by Pope Francis in 2015.
(UJCC) is an ecumenical organization that was established in 1963. It currently comprises the Church of Uganda, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Uganda Orthodox Church.
The Uganda Martyrs comprise 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity in the historical kingdom of Buganda, who were executed between 31 January 1885 and June 3, 1886, by King Mwanga.
During the canonization of the Catholic martyrs, on October 18, 1964, Pope Paul VI mentioned also the Anglicans, saying: 'Nor, indeed, do we wish to forget the others who, belonging to the Anglican confession, confronted death in the name of Christ.' The pope properly accentuated the concept of “ecumenism of blood”.
There is, hence, a connection between martyrdom and ecumenism. Through the testimony of martyrs, God achieves a greater Christian unity. This is currently evident between the Christian churches in the Middle East.
The Martyrs of Uganda, likewise, suffered and died together for Christ, irrespective of denominations. When Tertullian (AD 155-220), a Christian apologetic, says: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity”, we may also comment that the blood of the Martyrs of Uganda is the seed of ecumenism in Uganda.
Martyr is the Greek word “martus”, which translates as witness. It commonly refers to one who remains faithful to the point of death. A Christian martyr is a believer in Christ who has lost his/her life prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility. One chooses to die for their faith in Christ, rather than renounce Him.
When Jesus openly told people, they would have to take up their cross to be His disciples and to be worthy of Him, they understood that the cost could and would often mean physical death (Matthew 16:24). Martyrs courageously follow in Christ’s footsteps by enduring the “cross” of “washing of their garments in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
A major cause behind the persecution of Christians is that Christianity dares to decry the acts of despots and to oppose the sins of society. They teach us how to handle persecution of any kind while relying on the grace of God. This goes a long way to prove the legitimacy of Christ’s mission and power to save the world. It provides a testimony sealed with blood.
Martyrdom truly expresses the lifestyle of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). It is the following of Jesus as an icon of integrity, rather than mere adherence to an ideology or a system.
By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world, as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood (Mark 8:34).
“We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us, and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.”, observes Pope Francis.