Martyrs’ Day in Uganda

Written by on June 5, 2024

Martyrs Day Uganda takes place on June 3 every year. This religious holiday has been observed since 1975 and is of great significance to the Ugandan people. It celebrates the bravery and sacrifice of the 45 Christians who chose execution rather than renouncing their faith, at a time of great social and political strife caused by religious tensions. The Ugandan martyrs are hailed as heroes, and in some cases, saints. Though they faced a tragic end, the 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts have always been, and will always be, a symbol of inspiration, hope, and unity to Ugandans.

Christian missionaries began trickling into Africa in the late 1800s. The first of them were Catholics. Known as the White Martyrs because of the robes they wore, they traveled by caravan into Central Africa, spreading the gospel as they went. In 1879, the White Martyrs established a mission in Uganda. The kingdom of Buganda as it was known back then, was one of the largest and most powerful ethnic groups in the region. Their leader Kabaka Muteesa gave his subjects the freedom to choose their faiths. Some believed that Christianity was eroding their tradition, culture, and values. When Muteesa died in 1884, his son Kabaka Mwanga ascended to the throne.

Mwanga did not share his father’s tolerance for other religions, and he harbored a strong dislike for Christianity in particular. He felt the missionaries diminished his power, and in 1885, barely a year after becoming the king, he had three missionaries executed. Later that year, an Anglican bishop and his retinue were murdered. Joseph Makasa, one of Mwanga’s advisors, questioned his king about this and was beheaded for his efforts. Thus, Makasa became the first black martyr.

Mwanga targeted pages who worked with the missionaries, and when Charles Lwanga, a missionary, attempted to shield them, he and 16 of his fellow missionaries were executed. The excuse was that they refused to declare loyalty to the king, but in reality, Mwanga was threatened by their defiance. When the persecution finally came to an end in 1887, Mwanga had a total of 45 Christians executed — 45 martyrs from the Anglican and Catholic churches. Pope Paul VI canonized the Catholic martyrs in 1964, and on June 3, 1975, he had a shrine dedicated to them. This is why Uganda Martyrs Day is celebrated on June 3 every year.


The Arrival of Missionaries in Uganda

The first missionaries arrive at the court of Kabaka Muteesa, sent by the Church Mission Society from Great Britain.

The Inauguration of the Roman Catholic Church

The White Fathers inaugurate the Roman Catholic Church Mission.

The First Three Martyrs are Executed

Scarcely a year after assuming the throne, Kabaka Mwanga orders the execution of the first three Christian martyrs.

Last Christian Martyr is Executed

Jean-Marie Muzeyi, the last of the Christian martyrs, is beheaded on the orders of Mwanga.

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