Saint of the Day (June 3)-St Charles Lwanga and Companions
Today, the Catholic Church remembers Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions. Pope Paul VI canonised Lwanga and companions October 18, 1964. St Charles is the patron of African Catholic Youth Action, converts, and torture victims.
St Charles was a convert to Catholicism which had been spreading in Uganda when a congregation of priests called the White Fathers were received by King Mutesa. Some young pages in the kings’ court were prepared and baptised Catholic. After the king died, his son Mwanga took over. He had a reputation for engaging in paedophilic practices with young pages of the court.
The chief page Joseph Mukasa, a Catholic, was beheaded November 15, 1885 after he tried to protect younger boys and denounced the king’s conduct. After Mukasa’s death, several catechumens were baptised into the Catholic faith. Lwanga became the chief page and was dedicated to the Christian instruction of the younger boys. He too stood against the king to protect them from the advances of the king.
It is on this day 1886 on the Feast of the Ascension, that he was burned at the stake. He suffered torture with his feet being burned until charred. His torturers offered him freedom if he would renounce his faith. He replied, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.” He continued praying silently while they set fire to the rest of his body. Before the flames reached his heart, he said, “Katonda! —My God!” and died. He was 25 years old.
His companions also had a fiery death, burned together while praying and singing hymns. Bishop Robert Barron speaking about the Uganda Martyrs said, “He [King Mwanga] approached some of these young men for sexual favours and these new Christians resisted him; he was so angry he proposed a terrible choice for them either you renounce your Christian faith or you die, it is a miracle all these new Christians refused to renounce their faith.”
After Mukasa’s death, the pages were marched to Namugongo, outside the capital. Bishop Barron said they were marched past the priest who catechised and baptised them. “Imagine the conflicting thoughts and feelings going through the mind of that priest: such pride at these young men and undoubtedly terrible anguish”. At the site of their execution Charles Lwanga, one of the leaders in the group asked to arrange the pyre on which he would be burned. “He arranged the wood; he lay down and they burned him but over a long period of time; they say he maintained utter silence during this terrible torture and till the very end he plaintively said ‘Oh God! Oh God!’.”
Barron said any objective observer watching such a scene 1886 would conclude that was the end of Christianity in that part of Africa. “The few Christians that remained were a tiny minority and they were surrounded by enemies including the king and they saw what he had done to these Christians at Namugongo, anyone would say it’s over”. He added, “Here is the thing that has fascinated me, there is this peculiar logic that obtains when it comes to the supernatural, it is a logic of reversal and of surprise…the very thing that we think would destroy the faith in fact invigorates the faith”.
This was noted by the early Church fathers. He cited Tertullian, a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa who said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity”. http://www.synod.va/content/synod2018/en/youth-testimonies/st–charles-lwanga-and-companions–martyrs-of-uganda.html
The Seminary, Mt St Benedict is named after St John Vianney and the 22 Uganda martyrs including St Charles. The feast was celebrated as a community at 6 a.m. Mass. Rector of the Seminary Msgr Cuthbert Alexander said it was very rare for the Seminary community to be gathered on the feast day of either patron since both feasts fall in the regular vacation months. The Feast of St John Vianney, patron of priests, is celebrated on August 4.
He said today’s celebration was, therefore, “a great privilege for the community”. Unfortunately, the celebration could not have been on a larger scale, because of the COVID-19 restrictions, he said, “and yet it was what made the community celebration possible in the first place”.
The Seminary has been appealing for support from Catholics to continue its work of formation and education of future priests for the Archdiocese of Port of Spain and the region.