Namugongo Shrine is full to the brim to raise the memory of the Martyrs; the practice has become a religious and national culture. Hundreds arrive on foot from various regions of the country to witness their devotion to the gallant Martyrs. Leadership learns that pilgrims will hail from the rest of Africa, Europe, America and Asia. 600 pilgrims are on their way from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda welcomes them all with the nights of St. Matia Mulumba who are on their way with another large group from Nigeria and hundreds from the neighboring countries of
Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and others.
The memory of the Holy Martyrs are engraved eternally not only on the walls of the shrine but mostly in the hearts and minds of the faithful, the living Body of Christ. The Martyrs left to all generations a priceless gift that nurtures our faith and love for God. Someone wrote: had they been fearful, they would have betrayed us, and the Word of Life would never have come down to us. In the same line, if we fear we shall betray future generations, because we are expected to transmit to them the deposit we have received from our fathers. We would deny them something that gives meaning to their lives, including life after death. oren Kierkegaard, a Danish Philosopher and Theologian of the 19th century wrote “Between a tyrant and a martyr there is of course an enormous difference, although they both have one thing in common: the power to compel. The tyrant, himself ambitious to dominate, compels people through his power; the martyr, himself unconditionally obedient to God, compels others through his suffering. The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins”. Indeed the Uganda Martyrs challenge us through their suffering for the Lord of Life. We have neither affection nor any kind of allegiance to the king who slaughtered them.
But the Martyrs are ruling our hearts and compelling us to follow their footsteps. They are dead physically, but their spirit is present in our souls. ronically their rule is the fruit of suffering, the same way that Jesus walked: a way that He humbled Himself even unto the Cross. As Pope Francis recently said for a Christian this is the golden rule: progress and advancement always come through lowering oneself. Jesus fulfilled the will of his father by lowering himself: “Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). The Martyrs are the replica of “self-emptying” and because of that they are our models of life. According to the logic of the cross “going up” necessarily implies I “going down” first. If we fail to embrace this mentality we are betraying our Martyrs. Not only that, our rule will end with our death, unlike that of Martyrs.
Next year in October we shall celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Uganda Martyrs’ Canonization. Our task is to maintain the tradition of memorizing the lives and deaths of the Martyrs as a way of “producing” culture. Memory work done by early Christians on the historical experience of persecution and martyrdom was a form of “culture making”, whereby Christian identity was indelibly marked by the collective memory of the religious suffering of others.
Whenever we celebrate the Martyrs we are intensifying our spiritual identity and clarifying to ourselves and to others where we belong. Psychological Anthropologists say that it is very difficult, if not impossible to cancel a collective identity that has become part of the religious cultural. Communist and Atheist regimes tried to delete religious culture from the society for many years. But after their demise, the religious and spiritual identity revived itself more strongly. According to statistics, in China and other atheist regimes, the number of Christians increased tremendously in the form of “underground Churches”. It is further proof that one can kill the body, but not the spirit! The more we manage to covert the memory of the Martyrs to a visible and tangible cultural identity, the more we shall transmit to the future generation a healthy tradition.
We have to remember that Martyrdom is a form of testimony: testimony not so much to the injustices of power but to the possibility of a new world governed by the values of peace and justice. It is an alternative not only to a specific destructive power but to every power that wants to annihilate human life and its God-given rights. Hence Martyrdom in the Christian sense is really an act of love; a Constituent Act aimed at the future and against the sovereignty of the “present” that ends with death. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, death has been “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).
On top of the great lesson from the martyrs, Catholics are celebrating the Year of Faith. This is an additional treasure and reminder that our faith requires constant nourishment. The martyrs remain an example for all to emulate. The martyrs jealously protected their gift of Faith to the point of offering their bodies unto death. As much as the human body is one great gift of God, it is rendered useless when it becomes a mere object of sin. Today abuse of the body is top on the ladder: The body is abusively victimized into human sacrifice to acquire “wealth and power.” Human traffickers exchange parts of the body for money at international markets, let alone prostitution!
May the Holy Martyrs intercede for God’s Mercy, Amen!