Charles Lwanga

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Saint Charles Lwanga
Karoli Lwanga and his followers.jpg
St. Charles Lwanga and his companions
Born(1860-01-01)1 January 1860
Kingdom of Buganda
Died3 June 1886(1886-06-03) (aged 26)
Namugongo, Kingdom of Buganda
Venerated inCatholic Church
Anglican Communion
Beatified1920, Rome, Kingdom of Italy, by Pope Benedict XV
Canonized18 October 1964, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Pope Paul VI
Major shrineBasilica of the Uganda Martyrs, Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine
Feast3 June[1][2]
PatronageAfrican Catholic Youth Action, converts, torture victims

Charles Lwanga (Luganda: Kaloli Lwanga; 1 January 1860[3] – 3 June 1886) was a Ugandan convert to the Catholic Church who was martyred with a group of his peers and is revered as a saint by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.[4]

A member of the Baganda tribe, Lwanga was born in the Kingdom of Buganda, the central and southern part of modern Uganda, and served as chief of the royal pages and later major-domo in the court of King Mwanga II of Buganda. He was baptised by Pere Giraud on 15 November 1885.[5]

In an effort to resist a Christian worldview that undermined the authority of his office, King Mwanga II insisted that Christian converts abandon their new faith and executed many Anglicans and Catholics between 1885 and 1887, including Lwanga and other officials in the royal court.


St. Kizito being baptised by St. Charles Lwanga at Munyonyo – stained glass at Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine

The persecution started after Mwanga, a ritual pedophile, ordered a massacre of Anglican missionaries, including Bishop James Hannington who was the leader of the Anglican community. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, the Catholic major-domo of the court and a lay catechist, reproached the king for the killings, against which he had counseled him. Mwanga had Balikuddembe beheaded and arrested all of his followers on 15 November 1885. The king then ordered that Lwanga, who was chief page at that time, take up Balikuddembe's duties. That same day, Lwanga and other pages under his protection sought baptism as Catholics by a missionary priest of the White Fathers; some hundred catechumens were baptized. Lwanga often protected boys in his charge from the king's sexual advances.[6]

On 25 May 1886, Mwanga ordered a general assembly of the court while they were settled at Munyonyo, where he condemned two of the pages to death. The following morning, Lwanga secretly baptized those of his charges who were still only catechumens. Later that day, the king called a court assembly in which he interrogated all present to see if any would renounce Christianity. Led by Lwanga, the royal pages declared their fidelity to their religion, upon which the king condemned them to death, directing that they be marched to the traditional place of execution. Three of the prisoners, Pontian Ngondwe, Athanasius Bazzekuketta, and Gonzaga Gonza, were murdered on the march there.[7]

When preparations were completed and the day had come for the execution on 3 June 1886, Lwanga was separated from the others by the Guardian of the Sacred Flame for private execution, in keeping with custom. As he was being burnt, Lwanga said to the Guardian, "It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me."[8]

Twelve Catholic boys and men and nine Anglicans were then burnt alive. Another Catholic, Mbaga Tuzinde, was clubbed to death for refusing to renounce Christianity, and his body was thrown into the furnace to be burned along with those of Lwanga and the others.[9] The ire of the king was particularly inflamed against the Christians because they refused to participate in sexual acts with him.[10] Lwanga, in particular, had protected the pages.[3] The executions were also motivated by Mwanga's broader efforts to avoid foreign threats to his power. According to Assa Okoth, Mwanga's overriding preoccupation was for the "integrity of his kingdom", and perceived that men such as Lwanga were working with foreigners in "poisoning the very roots of his kingdom". Not to have taken any action could have led to suggestions that he was a weak sovereign.[11]


Private reliquary of Saint Charles Lwanga

Lwanga senior and the other Catholics who accompanied him in death were canonized on 18 October 1964 by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council.[12] "To honor these African saints, Paul VI became the first reigning pope to visit sub-Saharan Africa when he toured Uganda in July 1969, a visit that included a pilgrimage to the site of the martyrdom at Namugongo."[13]

The Basilica of the Uganda Martyrs was built at the site of the executions and serves as their shrine.[14] The Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga senior (Luganda: Bannakaroli Brothers) were founded in 1927 as an indigenous religious congregation of Ugandan men committed to providing education to the disadvantaged youth of their country.[15]

In the United States, Lwanga is honored by St. Charles Anglican Cathedral in the Diocese of Cascadia.[16] Recently, Saint Cecilia’s Church in Detroit, MI changed the parish name to St. Charles Lwanga Parish to represent the African American community in the inner-city of Detroit and continue Lwanga's legacy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O. C. D. S. Sister Marytherese (July 2009). Heroes and Heroines Canonized in the Twentieth Centurybook II (1951–1999). AuthorHouse. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-4343-4336-9.
  2. ^ Bob Burnham (1 March 2017). Little Lessons from the Saints: 52 Simple and Surprising Ways to See the Saint in You. Loyola Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8294-4502-2.
  3. ^ a b DACB (2003). "Lwanga Charles: Dictionary of African Christian Biography". Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB). Archived from the original on 26 August 2006. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  4. ^ UMS0 (2000). "Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo, Brief History". Namugongo: Uganda Martyrs Shrine Organization (UMSO). Archived from the original on 1 February 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  5. ^ UMSO (2000). "Charles Lwanga: Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo". Namugongo: Uganda Martyrs Shrine Organisation (UMSO). Archived from the original on 3 June 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  6. ^ Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (3 June 20275). "St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs".
  7. ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2016). "African Story: Martyrs of Uganda". Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  8. ^ CNA (3 June 2009). "St. Charles Lwanga And Companions, Martyrs of Uganda and saint". Catholic News Agency (CNA). Archived from the original on 3 October 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  9. ^ UMSO (11 November 2016). "Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo: Mbaga Tuzinde". Namugongo: Uganda Martyrs Shrine Organisation (UMSO). Archived from the original on 13 June 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  10. ^ Breviarium Romanum, Office of Ss. Matthias Mulumba, Charles Lwanga and Companions, Lesson V.
  11. ^ Assa Okoth (2006). A History of Africa: African Societies and the Establishment of Colonial Rule, pp. 86–87. East African Publishers. ISBN 9966-25-357-2.
  12. ^ Canonisation
  13. ^ SAHO. "Pope Paul VI proclaims 22 new African saints. The saints, known as the Blessed Martyrs of Uganda, were a group of converts who were persecuted and martyred from 1885". Cape Town: South African History Online (SAHO). Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  14. ^ UMSO (2000). "Uganda Martyrs Minor Basilica Namugongo: About Namugongo Shrine And Parish". Namugongo: Uganda Martyrs Shrine Organisation (UMSO). Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  15. ^ BB (14 November 2016). "Bannakaroli Brothers: About Us". Chicago: Bannakaroli Brothers (BB). Archived from the original on 14 November 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  16. ^ "ST. CHARLES LWANGA, OUR NAMESAKE". St. Charles Anglican Church. Retrieved 30 September 2022.

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