St. Charles Lwanga & Companions
(Feast: June 3)
Charles Lwanga was one of twenty-two Ugandan martyrs who were converted from paganism by the Society of Missionaries of Africa.
By 1879 the first Catholic missions were started in Uganda and other parts of Central Africa. Under King Mtesa missionaries preached, people studied the faith, and many believed in Jesus. Unfortunately King Mtesa was succeeded by King Mwanga, who began persecuting the Christians in Uganda.
After Mkasa, the Christian master of the court pages, criticized the king for his immoral acts and for murdering a group of missionaries, the king had him beheaded. On the same night that Mkasa was martyred, Charles, a catechumen, was baptized. Charles replaced Mkasa as chief of the royal pages and he protected the other pages from the immoral demands of the Babandan ruler, Mwanga, and instructed them in the Catholic Faith, even baptizing some of them.
He inspired and encouraged his companions to remain chaste and to be faithful to God even through imprisonment and persecution.
When Mwanga began to see the Catholics as a threat to his rule, he sentenced them to death.
He ordered his pages into a great room and ordered the Catholics to separate themselves from the rest. Then he asked if they intended to remain true to their faith, even when faced with persecution. “Until death!” they responded.
On 3 June 1886, the converts were tortured and burned alive. Most of the pages were under the age of twenty-five. The youngest was thirteen years old. They prayed and sang enthusiastically at their deaths.
Soon persecution spread, and more and more Catholics were sacrificing their lives rather than deny Christ. The example of these teenagers and men inspired other people, and in Africa the faith grew and spread. It has refused to die.
The twenty-two martyrs were solemnly beatified in 1920 and canonized in 1946.