St. Charles Lwanga
And as we mark this day, we commemorate the feast of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions from Uganda, Africa. St. Charles Lwanga and his 22 friends are the patron of youth and Catholic action especially in Africa. They were imprisoned for not obeying the command of the Ugandan ruler, Mwanga, who forced them to involve in homosexual actions. Mwanga was the son of King Mutesa who received Catholicism in 1879. Unlike his father, Mwanga was a corrupt man who ritually engaged in pedophilic practices which is strongly forbidden in the Catholic church.
St. Charles stood strong in his Catholic belief and encouraged his other young friends to refuse the ruler’s demand. He was brought to Catholicism by a man named Joseph Mukaso who was a head of the court. Joseph taught St. Charles about the Catholic teachings and Charles also served as his personal assistant. Joseph Mukaso strongly refused the demand of Mwanga who instructed young people to commit homosexual actions. Joseph encouraged young Africans to resist him. Joseph was then killed as a martyr. And on the day before Joseph was killed, St. Charles (25 years old) received his baptism.
On June 3, 1886, the Feast of the Ascension, Charles Lwanga was executed by burning with fire. On the day of his execution, the slaughterers asked him to renounce his faith that they would release him. He refused, saying:
You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.”
He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire. Just before the flames reached his heart, he looked up and exclaimed out loud, “Katonda! – My God!” and died. On October 18, 1964, Pope Paul VI canonized him and his companions as martyrs.
St. Charles and his friends were so young, not only in age but also in faith. St. Charles had just learned Catholicism and had also just been baptized Catholic, but his faith was strong. It is difficult to find someone with that kind of faith in our days, even in our place. With the spreading of the Covid-19, we are all hiding behind doors, the churches are closed, the priests are hiding in the church walls while the faithful are crying for spiritual help.
But, as religious, we did nothing because we are too afraid! The bishops, the cardinals, the priests are all afraid as if we don’t have faith in Jesus! I remember the story in the gospel where the disciples were about to sink. They were so afraid! Then Jesus came and said, “Take courage…, do not be afraid, oh you of little faith,” (Matthew 14:28.31). Jesus called them ‘of little faith’! So, if the bishops and the priests are so afraid and ‘have little faith’ how then we can encourage our faithful to not be afraid? Can we give encouraging words to the community when our words don’t have roots in our hearts?
Honestly, we are a generation of little faith in the boat of Catholic Church. So sad!
Looking at the faith of St. Charles and his friends, we in our time should be ashamed spiritually and are challenged how to live that kind of faith in the midst of difficulties or pandemics like we are facing now. If St. Charles and his friends lived in our time, they would laugh out loud at us or shake their heads.
My friends, the challenge in our time is nothing compared to what they had. So, their strong faith should be a foundation for us on how to deal with difficult situations. And their faith teaches us to not surrender easily to the difficulties, and to not allow the difficulties to rule over your life. Our faith is matured or tested throughout difficulties so, as St. Peter boldly said (1 Peter 1:7), we know that the genuineness of our faith is more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire.
As we start reopening the Church today, we ask God to help us that we may grow stronger than ever. And we pray that the blood of the martyrs St. Charles and his companions, which was poured in defense of their faith, strengthen our faith in the time of difficulties so that we may bring out Christ through our ministry more fresh and anew. And may their blood renew and strengthen our faith in God. And we pray that Our Blessed Mother Mary help us in our ministry.
May God bless you.