UGANDA MARTYRS: On Mission Sunday, 18 October 1964, the twenty-two Catholic Martyrs of Uganda were solemnly proclaimed Saints by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
The impressive ceremony with its age-old rites and traditional pomp and pageantry was rendered even more colourful and spectacular than usual by the presence of the vast majority of the Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. Also present were representatives of the Government of Uganda, the Kabaka of Buganda and other countries, and also over two hundred clergy, religious and lay people from the land of the martyrs.
But there are several Miracles that Led to the canonisation of the Catholic Uganda Martyrs including;
THE NUNS WHO WERE HEALED OF THE BUBONIC PLAGUE
In 1941, Sr. Philothy from Bannabikira, Bwanda in Masaka was struck by a strange disease and had to be sent to her brother for treatment. Her brother, Andrew Ziryawulamu of Kisubi Parish in Wakiso district, took her to one Dr. Ahmed, who confirmed that it was bubonic plague (Kawumpuli). There was no treatment for bubonic plague and so, Philothy had to be quarantined at Rubaga convent in Kampala. When she passed on, she was buried at Rubaga by only two nuns, Sr. M. Aloyse Criblet and Sr. Richildis. However, soon after the burial, the two nuns contracted the disease. Dr. Ahmed and his colleague, Dr. Reynolds, prescribed a quarantine.
Msgr. Edward Michaud and Pere Joseph Cabana, who was the parish priest of Rubaga, immediately and passionately devoted a 3-day novena through the Uganda Martyrs over the sick nuns. The novena in honour of the Blessed Martyrs was held in Rubaga Cathedral and the Martyrs’ relics were placed on the dying Sisters.
After the protracted prayers for three days, the doctors were amazed to find both nuns had miraculously recovered. Rome commissioned specialists to analyze the diagnosis, medicines and interview the two doctors — Dr. Ahmed, a Muslim and Dr. Reynolds, an Anglican. The conclusion was that not only was the medicine the nuns were taking ineffective against the plague, but even if it had been effective, it could not have produced results in such a short time.
THE MIRACLE OF THE CARVED LEGS
Salongo Revocato Kalema’s case was also registered as one of the Uganda Martyrs’ miracles. Kalema was born with carved legs. However, today, he has a different story to tell. He can walk and stand straight. And Kalema has told his story to all parishes where Kampala Archbishop Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga has gone to raise awareness of the jubilee year of the Uganda Martyrs. Kalema was born on June 11, 1959 in the Catholic Parish of Bigada near Kyotera town in Rakai district.
His mother, Josephine Namuddu, died only months after giving birth to him, leaving him with his father, who also died a year later. Kalema was left in the care of his aged grandmother, Clara Najjemba. Fortunately, the Good Samaritan Sisters of Bwanda offered to look after him and took him to their main convent at Bigada in Rakai. It was at that time that the Catholic Church announced that they were looking for miracles for the canonisation of the Uganda Martyrs. The Martyrs’ relics were also taken to Bwanda Convent where people prayed in earnest for miracles through the Martyrs’ intercession. According to Lwanga, the church mobilized people to recite novenas through the martyrs and all miracle claims were reported to Rome. Two special ones were selected and presented to Rome. Kalema was young, but his story has been told back to him numerous times.
He says “I was told that I was born deformed and was presented for a novena for miracles at Bwanda Convent. Nuns placed me at the altar in the main church, where the Martyrs’ relics were and prayed for me. I was told that Maria Mutagamba (the Minister of Tourism) was among the children who used to pray for me.”
Mutagamba confirmed Kalema’s story, saying: “I was young, but older than Kalema. The nuns, who were our teachers, told us to pray for him. We used to carry Kalema from his home to the parish, before they took him into the convent,” she said. Kalema said the miracle happened on the sixth day of the novena. “There was a girl who had been assigned the duty of carrying me to and from the church. She used to take me there every morning, take me back for lunch, take me back to church in the afternoon and then collect me in the evening. One day, she came to pick me and didn’t find me where she had placed me. She said she thought someone had transferred me from the room. She panicked and started looking all over the place for me. She wailed when she found me moving among the pews,” Kalema narrated. Through the intercession of the Uganda Martyrs Kalema can now walk, normally. He adds that news travelled fast and people stormed the church to see what had happened.
They found him standing and supporting himself on pews, as he tried to take steps. The nuns lifted Kalema and checked his legs. His feet were straight enough to support him! “By evening, I was walking. I was told this was one of the miracles God had done through the Uganda Martyrs that were presented in Rome as a testimony for them to be beatified, canonized and eventually announced saints by the Pope.”
About Uganda Martyrs’ Day
Martyrs’ Day is a national public holiday in Uganda on June 3rd.
The day commemorates the 45 martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, who were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda between 1885 and 1887.
From the start of his reign in 1884, King Mwanga had viewed foreign missionaries as the greatest threat to his kingdom and power base. He expelled missionaries and threatened converts to renounce their new faith or face execution.
In total, 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity were executed between January 31st 1885 and January 27th 1887. On June 3rd 1886, 32 young men were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. They were a combination of Anglican and Catholic converts.
There are Catholic and Anglian shrines to the Martyrs’ close to each other in Namugongo. Each year Martyrs Day attracts millions of pilgrims to the area with many coming from beyond Uganda.
In 2015, Pope Francis visited Namugongo, where he celebrated Holy Mass. Before the Mass, Pope Francis paid homage to the Anglican martyrs at the Anglican shrine.