Updated: Jun 5, 2019
Today, the Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran faith communities remember Charles (Karoli) Lwanga and his 21 young companions—young boys and men from thirteen to thirty years in age—who were cruelly mistreated and martyred in Uganda for their Christian faith between 1886 and 1887.
I chose to share this photograph of 20 of the martyrs rather than a commemorative painting or stained glass window so that you can see they were real. They had names and were sons, brothers, cousins, uncles, and father figures to others. And they were all Children of God.
On June 3, 1886, the Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Thursday) that year, Charles Lwanga (#13) was separated from the others and burned at the stake. The executioners slowly burnt his feet until only the charred remained. Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith. 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 said in a loud voice, “Katonda! – My God!,” and died.
His companions were all burned together the same day while praying and singing hymns until they died.
The persecutions spread during the reign of King Mwanga in Uganda, with 100 Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, being tortured and killed between 1885 and 1887.
Over the last 132 years since their deaths, Christianity has become the most widely professed religion in Uganda.