Half a century ago the martyrs of Uganda were canonized. They were young nobles who had converted to the Christian faith and were brutally slain during a period of barbaric persecution (1884-1887). This group of both Catholics and Anglicans was canonized during the Council by Paul VI, the Pontiff who, five years later, visited the sites of their martyrdom in Uganda. Likewise Francis, his Successor, at the high point of his journey to Africa spoke once again about the ecumenism of blood.
In his first speech before the civil authorities and the diplomatic corps, Pope Francis immediately spoke about the Catholic and Anglican martyrs, whom he defined as true national heroes who embodied what would later become Uganda’s motto, “For God and My Country”. From where he stood in Entebbe the Pontiff intentionally broadened his gaze to the whole of Africa, stating that today the country is seen by many as “the continent of hope”, despite the difficulties that arise above all from violence and various forms of injustice.
After leaving Kenya the Pope had arrived in Entebbe to a warm official welcome, after which he went to Munyonyo, a site where Christians were executed, and then to Kampala. By then evening had fallen but the dozens of kilometres along the Pontiff’s route were dotted with light from the candles of the hundreds of thousands who thronged at the roadsides to welcome him, if only for a fleeting moment. There was a festive meeting at Munyonyo with catechists, whom he urged to be teachers, but especially witnesses, like the martyrs.
The Pope dedicated the heart of his visit in Uganda to the martyrs, before his final meetings and the time that he had set aside to spend with the sick at the House of Charity founded by Cardinal Nsubuga. First, welcomed by Anglican bishops, he stopped at the place of martyrdom where an impressive museum now stands. He then celebrated Mass in the Catholic Shrine of Namugongo, for the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the martyrs, whose witness has truly reached all corners of the earth, in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The example of the martyrs, especially how they lived and “fan[ned] into flame” the gift of the Spirit, must inspire Christians, because in this way “we will surely become the missionary disciples which Christ calls us to be”. This must be done first and foremost in families, which the Pope recalled many times throughout these days, and in everyday life. It is certainly not an escape from the world but “instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world”, and it helps us to build a more just society which excludes no one and which protects creation.
The martyrs’ legacy, however, “is not served by an occasional remembrance, or by being enshrined in a museum as a precious jewel”, Pope Bergoglio said. Because truly, “we honour them, and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society, whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world”.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 21, 2019
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