, 04 June, 2020 / 4:50 AM
At celebrations marking Martyrs’ Day, the Archbishop of Uganda’s Kampala Archdiocese has called on the people of God under his care to follow the example of the Ugandan martyrs in view of strengthening their Christian faith within their respective families amid COVID-19 challenges.
“It is time for us to strengthen the domestic Church following the example of the martyrs of the early Church and by doing so, become stronger in faith,” Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga said Wednesday, June 3.
In his homily during the celebration of Martyrs’ Day, which the Archbishop had earlier announced would bring together a limited congregation and “be broadcast on various social and electronic media platforms in order to reach the faithful and enable them to follow and pray from their homes,” the Prelate said that “Ugandan martyrs teach us to have and nourish our faith in the word of God.”
He added in reference to the Ugandan martyrs, “They also teach us to remain firm in faith despite the fact that we cannot physically access our places of worship and spiritual leaders.”
Archbishop Kizito Lwanga went on to encourage family members to own and read the Bible on a daily basis saying, “Fortunately, for us as Catholics, every day of the year there are readings we are invited to meditate on. And all those readings invite us for renewal. Let us read and meditate on them as families.”
When missionaries fled Uganda due to the Christian persecution, Archbishop Kizito Lwanga recalled during his homily June 3, the missionaries who had fled returned years later, finding more Christians than before “because of the domestic Church and the Ugandan martyrs who evangelized these people.”
Also known as the feast of St. Charles Lwanga and his Companions, Martyrs’ Day 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 the Buganda Kingdom between 1885 and 1887. On this day, Catholics also commemorate two Ugandan martyrs of a later period, who died at Paimol in Uganda’s Lira diocese in October 1918.
On June 3 every year, 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.
This year, however, the leadership of the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) announced the postponement of the celebration due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“The Conference will later come up with another arrangement,” UEC chairman, Bishop Joseph Antony Zziwa stated April 29. In another statement a day later, Bishop Zziwa reiterated the indefinite deferment of the annual celebrations, this time adding that each Local Ordinary in Uganda gives guidance for the June 3 feast.
In his June 3 homily, Archbishop Lwanga reflected on COVID-19 situation saying, “We are living in a time when we can’t access our churches to fellowship and pray together, not because we are persecuted but because of health considerations.”
“There is a strong temptation to retreat into selfishness, individualism and also self-centeredness. There is also a temptation to develop a logic of the Law of the Jungle, survival for the fittest, which is against the Christian virtue of Charity,” the Archbishop cautioned referencing the stay-at-home directives amid COVID-19.
The Ugandan martyrs “teach us that at the moment of crisis and challenges, we should increase our works of charity, our works of love and not to reduce or destroy them,” he said.
The Archdiocese of Kampala held the celebration under the theme, “Like the Uganda Martyrs full of faith, hope and love, we shall overcome.”
Reflecting on the theme, he encouraged the people of God under his care to be men and women “of faith in imitation of the Martyrs.”
“The Ugandan martyrs are a reality, they are in heaven and can always intercede for us provided we have strong faith, hope and love,” the 67-year-old Prelate said and implored Catholics around the world to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic through the intercession of the Uganda Martyrs.
“Let us have that hope in God and that attitude and focus which reminds us of our baptism and our Christian obligations,” the Archbishop of Kampala said.
Meanwhile, in his address on Martyrs’ Day, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said in reference to the martyrs, “Fortitude and endurance has helped to plant the Kingdom of God across the men and women around the globe.”
“Continue lifting our nation in prayer and ask for God’s protection of all Ugandans against the coronavirus disease,” President Museveni said.
Due to COVID-19 restriction on public gathering, several pilgrims were blocked from accessing the Shrine at Namugongo. After NTV Uganda highlighted the incident in a Facebook post that included photos of pilgrims in prayer on the other side of the fence and at the gate, various people took to social media, sharing their reactions.
“What an act of Faith. Great that the police didn’t beat them up. We pray that Holy Uganda Martyrs join our prayers to present them to God Almighty,” Ritah Nakibwami posted.
“The lady said, ‘If only I touch his garment I will be healed’ and she got healed; I’m sure if only they touch the fence then they will be healed to coz of their faith in God,” Ronie B remarked.
“That is what they call acts of worship; they have indeed represented the rest of the world upon the Altar of God. Blessings u all,” Naafi Kateregga remarked in a Facebook post.
“I have never seen this place this empty all my life on earth. The statement ‘we never know what the future holds has finally come to reality,’” Allstar-Kreations on IG tweeted in reference to the Catholic Shrine at Namugongo.
“Our usual Martyrs’ Day celebrations dearly missed; Uganda Martyrs pray for us so that this COVID comes to an end,” Bonni Elubu posted on Twitter.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa