The Martyrs’ Day, also known as the feast of St. Charles Lwanga and his Companions, is a national holiday in Uganda. It commemorates the 22 Catholics killed alongside their 23 Anglican counterparts on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda Kingdom between 1885 and 1887 and two Ugandan martyrs of a later period, who died at Paimol in Uganda’s Lira diocese in October 1918.
Pilgrims from across the Eastern Africa region and beyond gather at Namugongo Shrine in the Archdiocese of Kampala for the conclusion of the multi-activity event.
In preparation for this year’s celebrations, Church leaders in Uganda had initiated various activities, with Bishop Serverus Jjumba of Masaka diocese who was overseeing the events calling for massive national re-awakening of the devotion to the Martyrs through activities such as recitation of prayers and litanies of the Uganda Martyrs at the end of every liturgical function and a votive Mass to the martyrs every Tuesday.
To mark the end of the year-long devotion that started on June 3, 2019, Christians had been scheduled to pray the Uganda Martyrs Novenas from May 25 to June 2.
In his May 24 statement, Archbishop Lwanga recalled the decision by the Catholic Bishops in Uganda to postpone the planned activities saying, “This year, when the entire world is hit by the COVID-19 Pandemic, and so, prompted to adopt new norms like social distancing, the Uganda Episcopal Conference made the historic and momentous decision to suspend public celebrations of the Solemnity of the Uganda Martyrs’ Day at Namugongo.”
In Kampala Archdiocese, the celebrations kicked off on Sunday, May 24 with a Novena to the Martyrs with the 67-year-old Archbishop encouraging the people of God under his care to pray for the needs of those undergoing difficult situations of life and for caregivers.
“Let us pray this Novena to the Uganda Martyrs’ in our homes and continue to ask for their intercession for the sick and dying, for those caring for them, for those working to minimize the impact of COVID-19, for those who have been displaced due to the floods in various parts of the country, for those who have lost their crops and food due to the locusts in the northeastern part of Uganda and for God’s protection against all these hazards,” the Local Ordinary of Kampala implored.
He added, “Since God has always promised to be with us, let us turn to him in prayer, remain calm and help our brothers and sisters in need.”
In his statement, Archbishop Lwanga went on to recall the work of the first missionaries in Uganda saying, “We remember with joy that the coming of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) was in response to the deep prayer and desire of their founder, Cardinal Lavigerie. He so much desired that Africans receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Fr. Lourdel (Mapeera) and Bro. Amans were the pioneers of this dream on 17th February 1879.”
“We thank God that through the grace of the Holy Spirit, their pastoral work bore fruits in the martyrdom and canonization of their first Christian converts. Our faith and life are rooted in the Blood of the Martyrs,” the Archbishop said.