Saturday, June 2, 2018

Feast of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions

The usual feast day for Charles Lwanga and Companions is June 3 but that is a Sunday this year and, as we know, no one trumps Jesus on Sunday. So I moved it up a day to Saturday because I still like to think about and thank these saints.

St. Charles Lwanga and Companions
via Ex Umbris Et Imaginibus
Charles is #13 above and if you click on the photo to enlarge it you can see everyone much better. Look at how young some of these numbered images look. These young men are truly the same ages as royal pages we would think of it from European history which is more familiar to us.
Today, together with the whole Church, we honor twenty-two Ugandan martyrs. They are the first martyrs of Sub-Saharan Africa and true witnesses of the Christian faith. Charles Lwanga, a catechist and a young leader, was martyred in 1886 with a group of Catholic and Anglican royal pages, some of whom were not yet baptized. King Mwanga, who despised the Christian religion, gave orders that all the Christian pages in his service be laid upon a mat, bound, placed onto a pyre and burnt. This took place at Namugongo, just outside Kampala.
I am not sure where I first heard of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions but I think it may have been in My Life With the Saints by James Martin. (Martin supplies the reading in honor of the feast day.) This is a bit, but do go read it all because there is a good amount of background for context.
They were marched to Namugongo, where, bound with ropes, shackles, iron rings and slave yokes, they waited for one week. During that time the martyrs prayed and sang hymns; the Catholics among them recited morning and evening prayers, grace before and after meals, as well as the Angelus and the rosary, in preparation for their deaths. On June 3, before the execution of the rest of the young men, Charles Lwanga was put to death by the king's men. He was wrapped tightly in a reed mat, a yoke hung on his neck, and was thrown onto a pyre. As a taunt to his executioners, Charles is said to have shouted, "You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body!" Before he died, he cried out, "Katonda" or "My God."

His companions were killed in the same gruesome fashion. Aylward Shorter writes, "As the flames rose, their voices could be heard praying and encouraging one another." The last words of the young Kizito were, "Goodbye friends, we are on our way." Forty-five Christians were martyred at Namugongo: 22 Catholics and 23 Anglicans.
I was really moved when I read of these young men who so bravely and honorably stood up for their faith until the end. Interestingly, I had completely forgotten the main reason they came under attack, which was that they rejected their king's sexual advances. In times when we have so many temptations to not respect our bodies or to turn away from chastity, these saints speak to our age.

I guess that is a good reason for revisiting these stories as we celebrate the saints every year. We never know what we have forgotten or not noticed until then.

More information can be found at Catholic Culture where there are also related activities and more reading suggestions.

Collect Prayer
O God, who have made the blood of Martyrs the seed of Christians,
mercifully grant that the field which is your Church,
watered by the blood shed by Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions,
may be fertile and always yield you an abundant harvest.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


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