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Unyeilding Faith: the Martyrs of Uganda

In 11 Joanna Bogle on 2014/02/28 at 12:00 AM


The Church marks the feast of the Uganda Martyrs in June, a day that in Uganda is a national holiday. Who were these martyrs, and what is their story?

It is one with a remarkable relevance for today. These martyrs were boys in their teens, and they died for their Christian faith—and, more specifically, because they refused to take part in homosexual activities. For their commitment to their faith and to its clear moral teachings, these 22 boys died in a particularly horrific manner: They were burned alive.

Today, Catholics have to stand with courage when speaking about homosexual activity. To affirm the Church’s teaching is to invite ridicule and insults—and, increasingly, to face legal difficulties. In Britain, new legislation has forced Catholic adoption agencies to choose between closure and agreeing to offer children to homosexual couples. A Catholic broadcaster received a visit from the police after she spoke against homosexual adoption on a radio program—she was warned that she might have committed a “homophobic” offense.

A few years ago the Church published a document (signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) that affirmed its teaching on homosexuality and offered some details concerning the pastoral care of people with homosexual tendencies. The date chosen for the announcement was June 3: the feast of the Ugandan Martyrs.

Faith Embraced—and Rejected

The story of the heroic young Ugandan martyrs begins with the arrival in the late 1880s of European missionaries, both Anglican and Catholic, in the territory then known as Buganda. They found a local culture and community that was warmly open to the Christian message and to news and information from the wider world. But as Christianity began to permeate local life, tensions arose. The ruler, theKabacka, died, and a new one inherited the throne. King Mwanga, a dissolute and spoilt youth, felt threatened by the vigor and openness of mind shown by the young pages at his court who had converted to Christianity. Chief among these was Charles Lwanga, a tall and good-looking youth who was a natural leader, excelling in sports and hunting. He was also one whose life of prayer and evident integrity influenced his fellows and drew them to ask questions about what inspired him.

Fear of the political and military intentions of the European powers—especially Britain—also played a part in what was to come. A visiting Anglican missionary, Bishop James Hannington, was murdered on the orders of the Kabacka. Dying with courage and dignity, he showed a faith that impressed the local people. After his death one of King Mwanga’s subjects, Joseph Balikuddembe, rebuked the king. He was savagely beheaded. A wave of persecution was beginning.

In the martyrdom that followed, boys who had become Christians—Catholic and Anglican—found their faith tested to its keenest limits. The Catholics had been attending talks and catechism classes with the missionaries. Some had been baptized; others were still under instruction. A separate group of boys had for some while been attending the Anglican mission and had been baptized there. The atmosphere at court had been profoundly affected by all of this: The example of both Anglicans and Catholics influenced others.

A Thwarted King’s Fury

Initially, the young Kabacka also had been impressed by Christianity: He liked what he saw and heard of the Christian message, and he also recognized that his people would benefit from the education and skills that the missionaries had brought with them. But this was not enough to counter his other, stronger, commitment—to a dissolute lifestyle, and especially to the homosexual activities to which he had become increasingly addicted.

After some weeks of tension, which stretched over Eastertide, the young men at court sensed that a major drama was about to unfold. One afternoon, after an unsuccessful day’s hunting, King Mwanga sent for a young boy whom he wanted to make a sexual favorite. The boy could not be found, and the king, in a rage, started to shout about the disloyalty and insolence he found at court. He knew that the boy’s absence was almost certainly due to Christians hiding him so that he would not have to face theKabacka’s advances. E knew that it was likely that the boy had absented himself because he was not prepared to engage in activity which HhhRounding up the boys known to be the keenest Christians, he ranted and hurled insults at them. He also demanded that they give up their ways of prayer and return to unstinting obedience to him in all things.

It became clear in the days that followed that homosexual activity and willingness to comply with immoral activities were the heart of the matter—the Kabacka’s rage had been fueled by the increasing reluctance of his young Christian subjects to indulge him in this. Death was the punishment for opposing the whims and wishes of this absolute sovereign.

But the boys stood firm. Arrested and bound, with ropes cutting into their wrists and feet, they prayed and sang hymns. The older boys, especially Charles Lwanga, taught and encouraged the younger ones, notably Kizito. The youngest of all, he was just 14, and alternated between radiant enthusiasm for Christ and a shaking fear of the death that now awaited them.

Death to “Those Who Pray”

The tribal ritual surrounding executions was grim. As the boys watched it begin, it must have struck terror into their hearts. The executioners, dressed in leopard skins and with their faces painted white in traditional designs, wove in long dances as they wailed a chant while the victims watched: “The mothers of these will weep today—O yes, they will weep today.”

Had any of the boys agreed to abandon their prayers and obey the Kabacka, their lives would have been saved. TheKabacka specifically referred to the Christian boys as “those who pray.” Any who chose to leave that category and renounce their Christian faith could walk back into favor with the ruler.

Namugongo, the site for executions, was some distance from the Kabacka’s court, and the journey there took several days. For some of the boys, tight bonds made walking difficult. On arrival, they were crammed into prison huts near a great funeral pyre that was being stacked—upon which they would be burned alive.

The many eyewitnesses to the martyrdom (the boys were killed in front of a large crowd of their own family members and friends) left a detailed account of the events.

It reads rather like those of the early martyrdoms of Christians in pagan Rome. Extraordinary scenes transpired. The boys prayed and sang hymns as they were rolled in rush matting and dragged to the fire. Young Kizito is said to have gone to his martyrdom singing and calling out that soon he would meet Christ in paradise. As the flames were lit, the prayers did not stop. The young boys’ voices could be heard, clear and unafraid, as the fire crackled up to meet them.

When all was over, the mound of burnt wood and ashes remained, to become one day the base of a great shrine which is now visited by thousands of people annually. Every year, on June 3, vast crowds arrive for an open-air Mass. Children are given the day off school. Kizito is a popular names for boys in Uganda, and his story is told to First Communion and confirmation groups.

An Urgent Witness Today

The Ugandan Martyrs were formally canonized in 1964, the first time that African drums were used in a ceremony at St. Peter’s in Rome. The emergence of Africa as a new stronghold of Christianity, the ecumenical dimension, the proximity of all this to the Second Vatican Council which was opening up a new chapter in the Church’s history—all gave the canonization a special sense of historic importance. But at that time no one thought to remark on the moral teachings at the center of it all: that the martyrs had witnessed with their lives to the truth that sexual communion is reserved to men and women in the lifelong bond of marriage and that homosexual activity is gravely sinful. In 1964, that was simply taken for granted by Anglicans and Catholics alike.

Today, however, we see the boys’ martyrdom as having an extra dimension of significance precisely because of this truth and their courageous witness to it. God speaks to us poignantly through the heroism of these youths. Their witness calls us to join them in courage and faith. We have been given their example at a time when we all need it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, affirming unchanging truths of the Catholic faith for a new century, quotes Scripture and Tradition in describing homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered and contrary to the moral law. It calls for respect, compassion, and sensitivity towards those who—like the young Kabacka—struggle with homosexual tendencies and calls them to chastity and Christian perfection. The Catechism also hails martyrdom as “the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death” (CCC 2473). TheCatechism notes “The Church has painstakingly collected the records of those who persevered to the end in witnessing to their faith. These are the acts of the martyrs. They form the archives of truth written in letters of blood” (2474).

Two Churches, One Martyrdom

A most touching aspect to this story of martyrdom is that both Catholic and Anglican boys were caught up in this drama. The Catholic Church does not presume to impose its forms of canonization on those who are not members—but in the ceremony in Rome which was to write the Ugandan Martyrs into the Church’s calendar, special mention with honor was made of the boys of the Anglican Communion who met their deaths—and whose names, incidentally, are recorded on a great memorial in the Anglican Cathedral in Uganda’s capital.


Joanna Bogle is an author, broadcaster, and journalist living in London with her husband, a lawyer. Her most recent book is English Catholic…

This article appeared in Volume 19 Number 5 of Catholic Answers.

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Politics and the Devil by Charles J. Chaput, Part I

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2011/12/01 at 11:01 AM
Politics and the Devil  by Charles J. Chaput,  April 11, 2011
A healthy democracy depends on people of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square—respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies. We cannot simultaneously serve the poor and accept the legal killing of unborn children.

I have chosen to address the theme of “politics and the devil,” not because I plan to suggest that anyone in our national political life has made a pact with Lucifer—although, given the current environment, you never know; it’s not the sort of thing you’d put in a press release—but because it is the title of an essay by the late University of Chicago philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. Kolakowski was a former Marxist, a very gifted scholar, and a skeptic about many things—but not about the reality of evil or the nature of the devil. One of the disturbing things for Kolakowski’s secular colleagues was that he talked about Satan not as a metaphor or legend or the figment of neurotic imaginations, but as a living actor in history. That deserves some discussion, but let’s start at the beginning.

Politics often works like a virus. The simpler a political slogan is, the faster people absorb it, the faster they transmit it, and the less likely they are to really think about it—which means they don’t develop an immunity to its content.

For example, a theme we’ve heard from many of our cultural leaders over the past few years—at least when they’re not battling over the economy or health care—goes like this. America needs to return science to its “rightful place” in public life. And of course, who can argue with that? Science does an enormous amount of good. Obviously, science should have its rightful place alongside every other important human endeavor. But one thing that this theme often means, in practice, is that we need to spend a lot more money on research. Especially the controversial kind. And while we’re at it, we should stop asking so many annoying ethical questions, so that science can get on with its vital work.

I want to focus on those words “rightful place,” an interesting phrase. A “rightful” place suggests that there is also a wrongful place, a bad alternative. And words like right and wrong, good and bad, are loaded with moral judgment. A “good” law embodies what somebody thinks is right. A “bad” public policy embodies what somebody thinks is wrong, or at least inadequate.

All law in some sense teaches and forms us, while also regulating our behavior. The same applies to our public policies, including the ones that govern our scientific research. There is no such thing as morally neutral legislation or morally neutral public policy. Every law is the public expression of what somebody thinks we “ought” to do. The question that matters is this: Which moral convictions of which somebodies are going to shape our country’s political and cultural future—including the way we do our science?

The answer is pretty obvious: if you and I as citizens don’t do the shaping, then somebody else will. That is the nature of a democracy. A healthy democracy depends on people of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square—respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies. Politics always involves the exercise of power in the pursuit of somebody’s idea of the common good. And politics always and naturally involves the imposition of somebody’s values on the public at large. So if a citizen fails to bring his moral beliefs into our country’s political conversation, if he fails to work for them publicly and energetically, then the only thing he ensures is the defeat of his own beliefs.

We also need to remember that most people—not everyone, of course, but most of us—root our moral convictions in our religious beliefs. What we believe about God shapes what we think about the nature of men and women, the structure of good human relationships, and our idea of a just society. This has very practical consequences, including the political kind. We act on what we really believe. If we don’t act on our beliefs, then we don’t really believe them.

As a result, the idea that the “separation of Church and state” should force us to exclude our religious beliefs from guiding our political behavior makes no sense at all, even superficially. If we don’t remain true in our public actions to what we claim to believe in our personal lives, then we only deceive ourselves. Because God certainly isn’t fooled. He sees who and what we are. God sees that our duplicity is really a kind of cowardice, and our lack of courage does a lot more damage than simply wounding our own integrity. It also saps the courage of other good people who really do try to publicly witness what they believe. And that compounds a sin of dishonesty with a sin of injustice.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver and the author of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life. This essay is adapted from the keynote address Archbishop Chaput delivered as part of the University of Notre Dame student-organized Right to Life lecture series.

Copyright 2011 the Witherspoon Institute.  All rights reserved. Re-printed on this blog with permission.  


Politics and the Devil by Charles J. Chaput, Part II

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2011/12/01 at 10:09 AM

Dwelling on the issue of science for just another moment, let me present some thoughts from two very different sources. Here’s the first source:

Science, by itself, cannot establish the ends to which it is put. Science can discover vaccines and cures for diseases, but it can also create infectious agents; it can uncover the physics of semiconductors, but also the physics of the hydrogen bomb. Science [as] science is indifferent to whether data are gathered under rules that scrupulously protect the interest of human research subjects . . . [or by] bending the rules or ignoring them altogether. A number of the Nazi doctors who injected concentration camp victims with infectious agents or tortured prisoners by freezing or burning them to death were in fact legitimate scientists who gathered real data that could potentially be put to good use.

The same source goes on to worry that, today, many of the bioethicists who claim to counsel and guide the moral course of American science “have become nothing more than sophisticated (and sophistic) justifiers of whatever it is the scientific community wants. . . . In any discussion of cloning, stem-cell research, gene-line engineering and the like, it is usually the professional bioethicist who can be relied on to take the most permissive position of anyone in the room.”

Now, from my second source:

What is our contemporary idiocy? What is the enemy within the [human] city? If I had to give it a name, I think I would call it ‘technological secularism.’ The idiot today is the technological secularist who knows everything . . . about the organization of all the instruments and techniques of power that are available in the contemporary world—and who, at the same time, understands nothing about the nature of man or about the nature of true civilization.

The words from my first source appeared in 2002 from the author and scholar Francis Fukuyama. If you know his work, you know that Fukuyama clearly supports the benefits of science and technology. He is not—to my knowledge—a religious believer, and based on his writings, he seems to have little use for Christianity. But he’s also not a fool. He sees exactly where our advances in biotechnology could lead us if we don’t find an ethical way of guiding them.

The words from my second source were written exactly 50 years ago, in 1961. They come from John Courtney Murray, the great Jesuit priest and Christian scholar. Murray was a thoughtful man, and he chose his language very carefully. He used the word “idiot” in the original Greek sense of the term, which is quite different from its meaning in modern slang.

For the Greeks, the “idiot” was not a mentally deficient man. Rather, he was a man who did not possess a proper public philosophy, or as Murray says, “a man who is not master of the knowledge and skills that underlie the life of a civilized city. The idiot, to the Greek, was just one stage removed from the barbarian. He is the man who is ignorant of the meaning of the word ‘civility’.”

As I said, these two sources are very different. One was a believer. The other is not. Father Murray died more than four decades ago, long before today’s stem-cell and cloning debates. But both men would agree that science and technology are not ends in themselves. They’re enormously valuable tools. But they’re tools that can undermine human dignity—and even destroy what it means to be “human”—just as easily as they can serve human progress. Everything depends on who uses them, and how. Fools with tools are still fools; and the more powerful the tools, the more dangerous the fools. Or to put it another way, neither science nor technology requires a moral conscience to produce results. The evidence for that fact is the record of the last century.

Now I’ve talked about these things so far for a simple reason. The moral and political struggle we face today in defending human dignity is becoming more complex. I believe that abortion is the foundational human rights issue of our lifetime. We can’t simultaneously serve the poor and accept the legal killing of unborn children. We can’t build a just society, and at the same time, legally sanctify the destruction of generations of unborn human life. The rights of the poor and the rights of the unborn child flow from exactly the same human dignity guaranteed by the God who created us.

Of course, working to end abortion doesn’t absolve us from our obligations to the poor. It doesn’t excuse us from our duties to the disabled, the elderly and immigrants. In fact, it demands from us a much stronger commitment to materially support women who find themselves in a difficult pregnancy.

All of these obligations are vital. God will hold us accountable if we ignore them. But none of these other duties can obscure the fact that no human rights are secure if the right to life is not. Unfortunately, abortion is no longer the only major bioethical threat to that right in our culture. In fact, the right to life has never, at any time in the past, faced the range of challenges it faces right now, and will face in the coming decades. Physician-assisted suicide, cloning, brain-computer interface (BCI) research, genetic screening of unwanted fetuses, genetic engineering of preferred physical and intellectual traits, cross-species experimentation, and developments in neuroscience—these things already raise serious questions about the definition of “human nature” and the protection of human dignity in the years ahead.

Politics and the Devil by Charles J. Chaput, Part III

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2011/12/01 at 9:11 AM

In Europe and the United States, our knowledge classes like to tell us that we live in an age of declining religious belief. But that isn’t quite true. A culture that rejects God always invents another, lesser godling to take His place. As a result, in the words of the great Jewish bioethicist Leon Kass, we live in an age of “salvific science.” In the place of the God who became man, “we have man become as god.” And in place “of a God who—it is said—sent his son who would, through his own suffering, take away the sins of the world, we have a scientific savior who would take away the sin of suffering altogether.”

The irony is this: the search for human perfection implied in modern science—or at least, the kind of science accountable to no moral authority outside of itself—leads all too easily to a hatred of imperfection in the real human persons who embody it with their disabilities. The simplest way to deal with imperfections is to eliminate the imperfect. In our daily lives, Kass warns, “the eugenic mentality is taking root, and we are subtly learning with the help of science to believe that there really are certain lives unworthy of being born. . . . [T]he most pernicious result of our technological progress . . . [is] the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of the idea of man as noble, dignified, precious or godlike, and its replacement with a view of man [as] mere raw material for manipulation and homogenization.”

Dr. Kass made those remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, itself a monument to the murderous and genuinely satanic misuse of science and politics in the last century. But he wasn’t speaking about genocide in the past, in some faraway, alien dictatorship. He was talking about the temptations we face today in our own democratic societies, the temptations to create “a more perfect human”—and, in the process, to pervert science and attack our own humanity.

This brings us back to politics and the devil, and also, to the very important question: How does one live as a Catholic in the world as it now is?

The great French scholar Jacques Maritain once wrote that “the devil hangs like a vampire on the side of history. History moves forward nonetheless, and [it] moves forward with the vampire.” The devil is condemned to work within time. He works in the present to capture our hearts and steal our future. But he also attacks our memory, the narrative of our own identity. And he does it for a very good reason. The way we remember history conditions how we think and choose today, in our daily lives. That’s why one of the first things we need to do, if we want to “live as Catholics,” is to remember what being “Catholic” really means—and we need to learn that lesson in our identity not from the world; not from the tepid and self-satisfied; and not from the enemies of the Church, even when they claim to be Catholic; but from the mind and memory of the Church herself, who speaks through her pastors.

Jacques Maritain and Leszek Kolakowski came from very different backgrounds. Maritain was deeply Catholic. Kolakowski was in no sense an orthodox religious thinker. But they would have agreed that good and evil, God and the devil, are very real—and that history is the stage where that struggle is played out, both in our personal choices and in our public actions; where human souls choose their sides and create their futures. In Kolakowski’s own words, “we are not passive observers or victims of this contest, but participants as well, and therefore our destiny is decided on the field on which we run.”

Politics is the exercise of power; and power—as Jesus himself saw when Satan tempted him in the desert—can very easily pervert itself by doing evil in the name of pursuing good ends. But this fact is never an excuse for cowardice or paralysis. Christ never absolved us from defending the weak, or resisting evil in the world, or from solidarity with people who suffer. Our fidelity as Christians is finally to God, but it implies a faithfulness to the needs of God’s creation. That means we’re involved—intimately—in the life of the world, and that we need to act on what we believe: always with humility, always with charity, and always with prudence—but also always with courage. We need to fight for what we believe. As Kolakowski wrote, “Our destiny is decided on the field on which we run.”

I have two final thoughts. First, nothing we do to defend the human person, no matter how small, is ever unfruitful or forgotten. Our actions touch other lives and move other hearts in ways we can never fully understand in this world.

Don’t ever underestimate the beauty and power of the witness you give in your pro-life work. One thing we learn from Scripture is that God doesn’t have much use for the vain or the prideful. But He loves the anawim—the ordinary, simple, everyday people who keep God’s Word, who stay faithful to his commandments, and who sustain the life of the world by leavening it with their own goodness. That’s the work we are called to do. Don’t ever forget it. If you speak up for the unborn child in this life, someone will speak up for you in the next, when we meet God face to face.

Second, a friend once shared with me the unofficial motto of the Texas Rangers: “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fella that’s in the right, and keeps a-comin. The message is true. Virtue does matter. Courage and humility, justice and perseverance, do have power. Good does win, and the sanctity of human life will endure. It will endure because if “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16), then the odds look pretty good, and it’s worth fighting for what is right.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver and the author of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life. This essay is adapted from the keynote address Archbishop Chaput delivered as part of the University of Notre Dame student-organized Right to Life lecture series.

Copyright 2011 the Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved. Re-printed on this blog with permission.  


Fr. Gabriel Carvajal’s farewell sermon at St. Vincent de Paul Church

In 07 Observations on 2011/06/28 at 12:03 AM

What makes this sanctuary and the sanctuary of every Catholic Church different from any other church in Charlotte and, for that matter, the world? Why is there a Tabernacle behind this altar and why is there always a red votive light next to it? What happens at the moment of consecration during every Mass? Why is the host held in such veneration and adoration every moment of the day throughout the world. Each of us know the answer to these questions, but I have one more:

The Eucharist, our Living God, is the greatest gift we have as Catholics and He is present to us every moment of the every day. What better way to celebrate our faith, a true gift from God.

How man of us and how many of our fellow Catholics truly and honestly believe that within that consecrated host is the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Savior, Jesus Christ? What an enormous gift we have, and what an unbelievable honor we enjoy as we are able to receive him every day or every week at Mass.

The Solemnity of the body and Blood of the Lord is given to us as a yearly reminds us of the awesome Gift we celebrate that is the Eucharist. It reminds us to reverence this Gift.

But someone can say: “Father, why all this emphasis on the Eucharist? All this talk is not very ecumenical. Christians of other faiths might be offended if we keep speaking about the Eucharist. We have to admit it; many Catholics themselves don’t see a value in the weekly reception of communion. Many are more concerned with being signed with ashes at the beginning of Lent than with receiving communion. Don;t you think that you should really tone it down?”

That is exactly what the disciples said to Jesus at the conclusion of the great discourse on the Eucharist in the sixth chapter of John: “This teaching is too difficult. People are leaving us.” Jesus responded: “And are you going too?” Peter’s answer to this is our statement of faith: “Where are we to go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”

The beliefs of others of different Christian denominations who do not acknowledge Christ in the Eucharist are to be respected. But we are not respecting others if we hedge on our own faith. In fact, if we hedge on our faith, particularly our faith in the Eucharist, we are insulting others. We are saying: “I don’t think you have enough character to respect my faith, so I’ll tone it down for you.”

No, let’s be who we are. We are Catholics. And let’s exalt in that which makes us uniquely Catholic, the great awesome gift of the the Eucharist The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord reminds us of who we are; who is present in the tabernacles of our churches, and what we are doing when we receive communion. May God bless each and every on of you. Amen

1Cor.10:16-17; JN 6:51-58 The Body and Blood of the Lord.  Delivered June 26, 2011. Printed on this post with his permission