The White Fathers, a congregation of priests from Europe, began to preach the Christian faith in Uganda in 1879. They were received peacefully by King Mutesa, the ruler of Uganda. A number of young men who were pages in the King’s court believed in Jesus and the priests began preparing them for baptism by teaching them the Christian faith.
It was during this time that King Mutesa died and his son, Mwanga, became king. Mwanga was a man of corrupt morals who used the young pages for his sexual pleasure. Joseph Mukasa, the chief page who was a Catholic, tried desperately to protect the young pages in his care from the king. At this time King Mwanga had a visiting Anglican Bishop murdered and Joseph Mukasa denounced the King’s action and was beheaded for his bravery on November 15, 1885.
Charles Lwanga, who was 25 years old, was appointed Chief Page in Mukasa’s place. Lwanga was a dedicated Christian and protected the boys from the King just as Mukasa had done. On the night that Mukasa was killed Lwanga and others went to the White Fathers to ask for baptism as they knew their lives would be in danger. In the following week another 100 boys were baptized.
When King Mwanga learned that fifteen of the pages were studying the Catholic catechism he was furious. He lined them up and asked those who were Christians to step forward and fifteen boys, ages 13 to 25 came forward. When the King asked if they would recant or keep their faith they answered, “Until death.” Their hands were bound and they were taken to Namugongo a two day walk away. One of the boys cried out, “God will rescue me. But you will not see how because he will take my soul and leave only my body.” The men cut him to pieces and left his body on the road.
On the Feast of the Ascension, June 3, 1886 Charles Lwanga was taken and burned at the stake. Just before he died he cried out, “My God!”
King Mwanga continued to persecute Christians and 100 more people, Catholics and Protestants, were tortured and killed.
Charles Lwanga and his companions were beatified in 1920 and canonized in 1964 by Pope Paul VI. Charles Lwanga is the patron saint of African Catholic Youth Action.
Today 41.9% of Ugandans are Roman Catholic, 35.9% are Anglican, 4.6% are Pentecostals and 12.1% are Muslim. The remaining belong to other Protestant denominations or tribal religions. (nationmaster.com)