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“A FINE THING BUT NOT ALWAYS AN EASY ONE”

Father Francis's picture
Saint Charles Lwanga & Companions

Charles Lwanga lived in central Africa in the late nineteenth century when Christianity had scarcely gained a foothold in that little known pagan continent. The time and the place may seem remote to us today but he has a good deal to teach our society about Christian values.

The first Catholic missions were established in Uganda by the White Fathers in 1879 who, at first, attracted many converts including Charles Lwanga. Later, the friendly local ruler was succeeded by Chief Mwanga, a man who was violently hostile to Christianity. He ordered the massacre of a group of Protestant missionaries and when one of his Catholic subjects, Joseph Mkasa, reproached him he was beheaded.

He lived a life of self-indulgence and debauchery, employing young pageboys whom he used for homosexual practices. Charles Lwanga was in charge of them and secretly instructing them in the Catholic faith. Four were baptised and he tried to safeguard them from the attentions of Chief Mwanga who, when he found the Christian boys refusing to comply with his demands, became very angry. Together with Charles Lwanga they were arrested and imprisoned. Asked whether they intended to remain Christians they replied 'Till death' and Chief Mwanga ordered their immediate execution. No fewer than 22 of them were taken to the town of Namugongo on 3 June 1886 where they were stripped of their clothing, cruelly tortured and burnt to death.

These martyrs were canonised by Pope Paul VI on 18 October 1964 and on his African tour in 1969 remembered them when he told 20 young Ugandan converts, “being a Christian is a fine thing, but not always an easy one.”

We like to think that we are living in more enlightened times, and that our country is Christian and civilised. But we have no reason to feel superior for those very same depraved habits of Chief Mwanga are practised in our society and adult homosexuality has become openly acceptable. Homosexuals say that they cannot help being homosexual because they are born that way. If true they should not be condemned for that. I was born a heterosexual but I know that I can only practise my sexuality in the context of marriage; if I am not married I cannot practise it at all, because God has forbidden adultery and fornication. Likewise a homosexual cannot practise his sexuality at all because God has forbidden sodomy. As a heterosexual I like to sum up the whole matter in these words: 'I am a heterosexual but by the grace of God am not practising.' A homosexual should say, 'I am a homosexual but by the grace of God am not practising.'

Not only is there violent sexual abuse of children but also violent emotional and physical abuse. They are an everyday occurrence, so common that we have almost ceased to be shocked by it. We need people with the courage and integrity of Charles Lwanga and his Companions to remind us of our Christian values and our duty to protect young people.

Today we hail Charles Lwanga as a patron of youth and Catholic action in Africa. Let us pray that he will continue to protect vulnerable young people everywhere.