Uganda Martyrs



The Uganda Martyrs are known throughout the Catholic Church. These are young men who died for their faith between 1885 and 1887. The first Catholic missionaries to Uganda were the Missionaries of Africa also known as the White Fathers who arrived in the country on February 17, 1879. The first evangelization was centered around the royal court of the Buganda kingdom and the first converts were the young pages who worked at the king’s palace. King (Kabaka) Muteesa I of Buganda who had enthusiastically welcomed the missionaries later turned against them. The missionaries were forced to go out of the country to Mwanza in northern Tanzania in 1882. At the death of King Muteesa I in 1884, the missionaries returned to Uganda, thinking that the young king, Mwanga would be favorable to them. In fact, he had shown signs of conversion to Christianity. The missionaries were amazed on their return to Uganda after two years to find a flourishing Christian community. The catechumens led by Joseph Balikuddembe had carried on the missionary work.

The Uganda Martyrs Were Burnt to Death
King Mwanga never lived to his expectations. There are many factors which led to the persecution of the Christians. First, the Kabaka of Buganda was an absolute monarch. His decisions were not challenged by anybody in his kingdom. Many young pages after learning about the Christian faith, refused his invitation to have homosexual gratification with him. This was the main reason why they were killed. Second, at the royal palace there were many groups each competing to have the King’s favour and also to have control of the kingdom. There were the followers of the traditional religion who felt challenged by the new comers, the Moslems and the Christians. In fact the leaders of the traditional religion advised King Mwanga to kill what they called rebellious elements in the kingdom who refused to obey the King’s orders. Third, Christianity was associated with political power. The first person to be killed was Bishop Hannington an Anglican bishop who coming to the kingdom came from the east in 1885. There was a belief in Buganda that the one who would overthrow the Kabaka of Buganda would come from the east. The first Uganda martyr was Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe who rebuked the king for killing bishop Hannington. Kabaka Mwanga soon began to persecute the Christians and many of them were burnt to death on June 3, 1886. This day is commemorated in Uganda as a national holiday. At the end of the persecution at least 45 Christians had been killed (22 Catholics and 23 Protestants - Anglicans).

The Catholic martyrs were beatified in Rome in 1922. Daniel Kamyuka who survived the persecution attended this beatification. On October 18, 1964 during the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI canonized them saints.
“The blood of the Christians is the seed.” (Tertullian, The Apology). Christianity has grown in Uganda. More than 80% of the Ugandans are Christians. The Catholics make up 42% of Uganda’s total population of 26.8 million people, according to the 2002 census.